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Regional  Oral  History  Office 
The  Bancroft  Library 

University  of  California 
Berkeley,  California 

Ansel  Adams 

With  Introductions  by 
James  L.  Enyeart 

Richard  M.  Leonard 

An  Interview  Conducted  by 
Ruth  Teiser  and  Catherine  Harroun 
in  1972,  1974,  and  1975 

Copy  No. 
(c)  1978  by  The  Regents  of  the  University  of  California 

All  uses  of  this  manuscript  are  covered  by  a 
legal  agreement  between  the  Regents  of  the  University 
of  California  and  Ansel  Adams,  dated  September  15, 
1978.   The  manuscript  is  thereby  made  available  for 
research  purposes.   All  literary  rights  in  the 
manuscript,  including  the  right  to  publish,  are 
reserved  to  Ansel  Adams  during  his  lifetime  or,  if 
deceased,  to  the  Ansel  Adams  Publishing  Rights  Trust 
until  December  31,  1989.   No  part  of  this  manuscript 
may  be  quoted  for  publication  without  the  written 
permission  of  the  Director  of  The  Bancroft  Library 
of  the  University  of  California  at  Berkeley. 

Requests  for  permission  to  quote  for 
publication  should  be  addressed  to  the  Regional 
Oral  History  Office,  486  Library,  and  should  include 
identification  of  the  specific  passages  to  be  quoted, 
anticipated  use  of  the  passages,  and  identification 
of  the  user. 

The  legal  agreement  with  Ansel  Adams  requires 
that  he  or,  if  deceased,  the  Ansel  Adams  Publishing 
Rights  Trust  be  notified  of  the  request  and  allowed 
thirty  days  in  which  to  respond. 

It  is  recommended  that  this  oral  history  be 
cited  as  follows: 

Ansel  Adams,  "Conversations  with  Ansel 
Adams,"  an  oral  history  conducted  1972, 
1974,  1975  by  Ruth  Teiser  and  Catherine 
Harroun,  Regional  Oral  History  Office, 
The  Bancroft  Library,  University  of 
California,  Berkeley,  1978. 

Photograph  by  Pirkle  Jones 

Ansel  Adams  receiving  honorary  degree  from  the  University 
of  California,  Charter  Day,  1961. 

Left  to  right:  President  Clark  Kerr,  Ansel  Adams,  Professor 
Joel  Hildebrand 

TABLE  OF  CONTENTS  —  Ansel  Adams 


INTRODUCTION  by  James  L.  Enyeart  i 

INTRODUCTION  by  Richard  M.  Leonard  vii 


INTERVIEW  I  —  12  May  1972  1 

Education  and  the  Creative  Process  1 

Family  Background  and  Childhood  2 

Studying  the  Piano  6 

Beginning  in  Photography  7 

Youthful  Experiences  9 

Visualization  and  Music  12 

Anticipation  in  Music  and  Photography  13 

Mariner  Photographs  of  Mars  16 

"Monolith,  the  Face  of  Half  Dome"  17 

Literary  Titles  for  Photographs  18 

Portraiture  20 

Manzanar  23 

Early  Days  and  Scientific  Concepts  26 

The  1915  Fair  28 

Religious  Concepts  and  Cemeteries  32 

Aesthetics  and  Ecology  36 

INTERVIEW  II  —  13  May  1972  37 

Photographic  Equipment  37 

Photography  and  Technology  40 

Innovations  and  Patents  43 

Innovations  and  Aesthetic  Demands  44 

Making  Photographs  and  Printing  Negatives  44 

Photographs  as  Commodities  47 

Photography  and  Politics  49 

Group  f/64  49 

INTERVIEW  III  —  14  May  1972  52 

Stieglitz  52 

Influences  56 

Taste,  Perspective,  and  Distortion  58 

The  Photogram  62 

Nuclear  Bombs  and  Photographic  Materials  63 

Nature  Photographs:   Points  of  View  64 

Quality  Levels  and  Portraits  67 

Albert  Bender  69 

Commissions  70 

Albert  Bender  and  His  Friends  72 

Cedric  Wright  75 

Musicians  and  Artists  77 

Cults,  Controls,  and  Creativity  81 

Prints:  Tangible  and  Intangible  Aspects  83 

INTERVIEW  IV  —  19  May  1972  87 

The  Group  f/64  Exhibit  87 

Meters,  Lenses,  and  Film  Speeds  91 

Brigman,  Van  Dyke,  Edwards,  and  Cunningham  94 

Parmelian  Prints  97 

Noskowiak,  Weston,  Swift,  Holder,  Kanaga,  and  Lavenson  99 

Brett  Weston  and  Edward  Weston  102 

Applied  Photography  104 

Giving  Photography  Museum  Status  105 

Camera  Clubs,  Groups,  and  Galleries  110 

The  Golden  Gate  International  Exposition  Exhibit  113 

Timing  in  Photography  115 

Edwin  Land  and  the  Polaroid  Camera  System  117 

INTERVIEW  V  ~  20  May  1972  121 

Mortensen  121 

Vision  and  Photography  122 

Flash  Mishaps  125 

Photographic  Printing  Papers  127 

Writing  the  Basic  Photography  Books  129 

The  Zone  System  131 

Meters  and  Automation  133 

Technique  in  Relation  to  Aesthetics  137 

Science  and  the  Creative  Photographer  138 

Sensitometry  as  a  Creative  Tool  142 

Contemporary  Images  146 

The  Nude  147 

Contrivance,  Arrangement,  and  Simulation  149 

Meaning,  Shape,  and  Form  151 

Time  and  Reevaluation  153 

The  Photo  League  and  Politics  154 

Working  With  Dorothea  Lange  158 

Early  Visits  to  New  Mexico  159 

INTERVIEW  VI  —  26  May  1972  159 

Indian  Art  and  Architecture  165 

Ella  Young  168 

Santa  Fe  People  172 

Taos  Pueblo  175 

Paul  Strand  and  a  New  Approach  181 

Santa  Fe  People,  Continued  183 

Taos  Pueblo,  Continued,  and  The  Land  of  Little  Rain  186 

More  Southwest  Friends  and  Experiences  190 

INTERVIEW  VII  —  27  May  1972  197 

The  Reproduction  of  Photographs  199 

Viewing  Photographs  206 

Light  Sources  and  Light  Measurement  209 

Technological  Advances  in  Photographic  Films  211 

"The  Negative  is  Like  the  Composer's  Score"  215 

Beauty  or  Therapy?  220 

Astronomical  Photography  and  Videotape  221 

INTERVIEW  VIII  —  29  May  1972  227 

Early  Years  in  Yosemite  227 

Mountain  Trips  With  Francis  Holman  232 

Perils  and  Close  Calls  236 

Sierra  Club  Trips  240 

Yosemite,  Continued  244 

Photography  Workshops  and  Aspiring  Amateurs  246 

Joseph  N.  LeConte  in  the  Sierra  249 

The  Half  Dome  Cable  252 

Logic  and  Faith  254 

Panchromatic  Plates  256 

Dreams  and  Heavenly  Bodies  261 

Concepts  of  Conservation  and  Wilderness  264 

Yosemite  Concessions  265 

INTERVIEW  IX  —  2  June  1972  266 

Sierra  Club  Photographers  266 

Sierra  Nevada:   The  John  Muir  Trail  267 

Skiing  in  the  Mountains  276 

The  Sierra  and  Other  Ranges  279 

Alaska  281 

Aerial  Photography  283 

Yosemite  and  the  Sierra  Nevada  287 

Yosemite  Photography  Workshops  291 

INTERVIEW  X  —  3  June  1972  296 

Skill  in  Music  and  Photography  296 

The  Friends  of  Photography  301 

Museums  and  Critics  305 

Proper  Disposition  of  Photographs  311 

Financial  Practicalities  313 

Original  Prints  314 

One-Man  Shows  318 

The  Creative  Intention  320 

Exhibit  Prints  and  Archival  Factors  321 

INTERVIEW  XI  —  4  June  1972  324 

Printing  Earlier  Photographers'  Negatives  324 

Eastern  Visit,  1933  328 

The  Stieglitz  Exhibit  and  the  Adams  Gallery  335 

35  Millimeter  and  2  1/4  Cameras  337 

Photographs  for  Magazines  342 

Assignments  346 

Working  With  Dorothea  Lange,  Continued  348 

Wartime  Work  351 

Problems  Encountered  353 

"Making"  and  "Shooting"  Photographs  359 

Printing  and  Papers  361 

INTERVIEW  XII  —  30  June  1972  363 

More  on  Photography  Workshops  363 

Teachers  and  Critics  369 

The  Development  of  the  Zone  System  372 

The  Art  Center  School  372 

The  California  School  of  Fine  Arts  374 

Large  Photographs  375 

Photographing  a  Potash  Mine  379 

Photographing  the  Carlsbad  Caverns  381 

Preserving  Negatives  383 

The  Late  Thirties  and  the  Fair  386 

Photographic  Industry  Attitudes  387 

INTERVIEW  XIII  —  1  July  1972  389 

A  Pageant  of  Photography  389 

Land,  Kennedy,  Stieglitz,  Norman,  and  Steichen  391 

A  Pageant  of  Photography,  Continued  394 

Aspects  of  Edward  Weston  398 

Landscape  Photography  and  Taste  400 

The  Museum  of  Modern  Art  401 

"The  Family  of  Man"  403 

Nancy  Newhall  404 

Various  Exhibitions  405 

Geraldine  McAgy  and  Lisette  Model  409 

Frank  Lloyd  Wright  411 

Civil  War  and  Frontier  Photographs  413 

More  on  the  Manzanar  Photographs  415 

Museums  and  Galleries  417 

Yosemite  Today  422 

INTERVIEW  XIV  —  2  July  1972  423 

Richard  McGraw  423 

Publications  425 

Guggenheim  Fellowships  431 

Morgan  &  Lester,  Morgan  &  Morgan  436 

Color  in  Photography  440 

Portfolios  and  Publishing,  1948-1952  444 

Aperture  Edited  by  Minor  White  449 

Beaumont  and  Nancy  Newhall  456 

Traveling  Exhibits  459 

"This  is  the  American  Earth"  462 

Ecology  and  Rationality  471 

Book  Publishing  473 

INTERVIEW  XVI  —  8  July  1972  478 

Work  in  Progress  478 

The  Pageant  of  History  in  Northern  California  479 

Making  Photographs,  1972  488 

Reproduction  Rights  490 

More  Books  493 

Government-Sponsored  Exhibits  496 

Photography  Critics  499 

Honors  and  Hawaii  Books  501 

INTERVIEW  XVII  —  9  July  1972  503 

Photographing  Wineries  and  Vineyards  503 

Pirkle  Jones  and  Ruth-Marion  Baruch  508 

"Images  and  Words"  Workshops  511 

The  Design  of  Printed  Material  513 

Scientists  and  Optics  515 

Working  With  the  Polaroid  Corporation  521 

Revising  the  Basic  Photography  Books  527 

Hawaii  Books,  Continued  529 

Signed  Prints  and  Limited  Editions  532 

INTERVIEW  XVIII  —  14  July  1972  534 

Dreams  534 

1963  Exhibition  and  The  Eloquent  Light  534 

Traveling  Prints  and  "Theme  Shows"  538 

Honors  541 

Fiat  Lux  543 

Illustrating  Jeffers  and  Other  Writers  558 

What  Does  a  Photograph  Do?  561 

Conflicts  and  Friendships  562 

INTERVIEW  XIX  —  15  July  1972  565 

More  on  Reproduction  Rights  565 

Darkrooms  569 

Darkroom  Tour  572 

Formulas  and  Procedures  578 

INTERVIEW  XX  (Sierra  Club  Interview  I)  —  16  July  1972  582 

Early  Aesthetic  Impact  of  Yosemite  582 

"Some  Wild  Experiences"  585 

Animals  and  People  in  the  National  Parks  587 

Sierra  Club  Indoctrination,  1923  594 

Concepts  and  Techniques  of  Conservation  595 

Forces  For  and  Against  Conservation  601 

Balancing  Preservation  and  Recreation  606 

INTERVIEW  XXI  (Sierra  Club  Interview  II)  —  11  August  1972  608 

Sierra  Club  People  608 

Hetch  Hetchy  613 

Atomic  Power  Plants  615 

Private  Interests  and  the  Public  Interest  617 

The  Sierra  Club  and  the  Government  622 

The  Park  Service  and  the  Forest  Service  624 

Trans-Sierra  Highways,  Continued  632 

The  National  Geographic  and  the  Sierra  Club  Bulletin  636 

INTERVIEW  XXII  (Sierra  Club  Interview  III)  ~  12  August  1972  637 

Sierra  Club  Outings  637 

More  Sierra  Club  People  643 

Sierra  Club  Campaigns  646 

Protection  and  Overprotection  653 

Citizens'  Campaigns  659 

The  Sierra  Club  and  Its  Chapters  661 

INTERVIEW  XXIII  (Sierra  Club  Interview  IV)  --  13  August  1972  664 

Sierra  Club  Publications  667 

Zoning  671 

The  Sierra  Club  Decision-Making  Structure  672 

Leadership  Conflicts  675 

Publication  Problems  680 

Conservation  Conferences  683 

Gifted  People  684 

Conflicts,  Continued  686 

Preserving  Wilderness  Through  Legislation  690 

INTERVIEW  XXIV  (Sierra  Club  Interview  V)  —  8  September  1972  691 

The  Sierra  Club  Foundation  694 

Dams  and  Reservoirs  696 

Transferring  Properties  to  Public  Ownership  699 

A  Western  Club  or  a  National  Club?  705 

Protecting  and  Administering  Public  Lands  706 

The  Alaska  Pipeline  708 

"The  Conscience  of  the  Board"  709 

A  Publications  Program  714 

The  Future  of  the  Sierra  Club  716 

INTERVIEW  XXV  —  19  May  1974  721 

Recent  Exhibits  721 

Polaroid  Prints  725 

Lighting  Pictures  725 

Plans  726 

INTERVIEW  XXVI  —  23  February  1975 

Art  Festival  at  Aries  727 

Images  1923-1974  729 

White  House  Visit  735 

Park  Problems  and  Solutions  736 

Death  of  Nancy  Newhall  740 

More  on  the  Friends  of  Photography  741 

Future  and  Recent  Events  743 

INDEX  748 


INTRODUCTION,  by  James  L.  Enyeart 

Ansel  Adams  has  often  said  that  he  is  "incapable  of  verbalization  on 
the  content"  of  his  photographs.   "If  a  photograph  does  not  say  it,  words  or 
explanation  cannot  help."  However,  as  the  following  interview  will  reveal, 
Ansel  Adams  is  a  most  capable  spokesman  on  his  work  and  a  great  many  other 
topics.   When  he  says  "verbalization,"  he  means  his  inability  to  interpret 
or  put  into  words  the  meaning  of  his  photographs  and,  in  that,  he  is  not  alone. 
Eloquent  words  by  critics  or  historians  may  compliment,  describe,  or  serve  in 
other  ways  an  artist's  creations  but,  in  the  end,  must  yield  to  the  muteness 
of  the  pen  when  applied  to  the  visual  arts. 

Two  series  of  events  early  in  Adams'  life  stand  out  as  significant  land 
marks  in  the  development  of  his  aesthetic  predilections.   Chronologically,  the 
first  of  the  two  was  his  chance  meeting  with  Paul  Strand  in  Taos,  New  Mexico, 
in  1930.   Strand  had  at  the  time  only  negatives  to  show  Adams  and,  as  he  held 
each  one  up  to  the  light  of  a  window,  a  dramatic  transformation  took  place  in 
Adams'  understanding  of  the  medium.   He  felt  he  understood  for  the  first  time 
the  poetic  strength  and  structural  power  potential  to  the  photographic  medium. 
Up  to  that  point,  Adams  felt  that  he  had  been  "mostly  adrift  with  my  own  spirit, 
curiosity,  and  vision."   This  revelation  was  of  sufficient  intensity  to  inspire 
Adams  to  give  up  a  growing  career  in  music  and  to  devote  his  life  to  photography. 
(He  had  for  many  years  trained  as  a  concert  pianist.) 

For  Adams,  a  commitment  to  photography  encompassed  the  whole  of  photography 
and  all  its  possible  communicable  aspects:   commercial,  documentary,  political, 
and  most  important,  aesthetic.   This  experience  also  revealed  to  him  for  the 
first  time  the  relevance,  spirit,  and  intent  of  the  work  of  his  friend  and 


peer,  Edward  Weston.   Prior  to  his  meeting  with  Strand,  Adams  had  become  a 
friend  of  Weston's  but  had  not  liked  his  photographs;  however,  two  years  later, 
he,  Weston,  and  several  other  photographers  (Willard  Van  Dyke,  Imogen  Cunningham, 
Sonya  Noskowiak,  and  Henry  Swift)  with  similar  aesthetic  ideals  founded  Group  f.64 
a  visual  manifesto  of  what  they  believed  the  straight  photograph  to  be.   In  that 
same  year,  Adams  had  his  first  important  one-man  exhibition  at  the  M.  H.  deYoung 
Memorial  Museum  in  San  Francisco. 

The  second  series  of  events  which  most  affected  Adams  and  his  subsequent 
life  as  an  artist  took  place  between  the  years  1933  and  1936.   In  1933,  he  made 
his  first  trip  to  New  York  and  met  Alfred  Stieglitz  with  the  purpose  of  showing 
Stieglitz  his  photographs.   Stieglitz  was  supportive  and  encouraged  Adams  in 
the  direction  manifested  in  his  photographs.   In  1936,  Stieglitz  gave  Adams 
a  one-man  exhibition  at  An  American  Place,  making  him  the  first  young  photog 
rapher  to  be  shown  at  Stieglitz1  gallery  since  Paul  Strand  in  1917.   Following 
the  opening  of  the  exhibition,  Adams  wrote  a  letter  to  a  friend  which  detailed 
the  success  of  the  show  and  the  impact  Stieglitz  was  having  on  his  life.   The 
following  is  an  excerpt  from  that  letter:   "To  describe  what  Stieglitz  is  and 
what  he  does  is  impossible.  He  has  dedicated  himself  to  an  idea  and  he  has 
worked  like  hell  for  forty  years  to  put  the  idea  over.   And  it  seems  to  be 
going  over  now  with  all  the  inevitability  of  the  tides.   The  Marin  show  at 
The  Museum  of  Modern  Art  exceeds  anything  of  its  kind  shown  in  America.  The 
work  O'Keeffe  is  doing  now  is  remarkable.   Stieglitz  promised  me  a  picture  of 
New  York  that  will  send  chills  up  and  down  your  spine  when  you  see  it.  And 
here  is  Mr.  Adams  suddenly  handed  the  most  important  assignment  of  his  short 


life—to  maintain  photographic  standards  as  one  of  the  Stieglitz  group.   I  was 
quite  a  little  stuck-up  over  the  obvious  material  success  of  the  Chicago  show 
but  what  has  happened  to  me  here  has  thoroughly  deflated  everything  but  a 
sense  of  humility  and  responsibility.   Nobody  has  conceit  when  they  are  with 
Stieglitz.   The  essential  honesty  transcends  everything.  You  are  or  you  are 
not.   The  pattern-sequence  seems  to  indicate  that  I  am."  Humility,  a  sense 
of  responsibility,  and  a  commitment  to  the  art  world  are  all  important  aspects 
of  Ansel  Adams'  character,  as  is  his  immutable  sense  of  humor  reflected  in 
his  love  for  puns  and  limericks. 

As  an  artist,  Adams  gained  an  understanding  and  appreciation  of  the 
"equivalent"  concept  from  his  association  with  Stieglitz.   Combined  with  his 
stylistic  preference  for  the  straight  approach  and  his  love  for  nature's 
grandeur,  the  "equivalent"  aesthetic  became  for  Adams  an  idea  and  mission 
uniquely  his  own  which  remains  unrivaled  today.  Although  his  famous  "Zone 
System"  serves  the  science  and  technology  of  the  medium,  its  primary  purpose 
was  one  of  providing  a  means  for  attaining  the  highest  quality  representation 
of  the  philosophical  implications  inherent  in  the  straight  approach  and  one's 
own  personal  vision.   Equally  important  is  Adams'  attempt  to  make  his  photo 
graphs  "equivalents"  of  his  experiences,  emotions,  sensations,  and  thoughts. 
It  is  Adams'  forging  of  the  straight  and  equivalent  photographic  concepts  into 
a  unique  style  and  philosophy  of  his  own  that  has  brought  him  the  many  admirers 
and  honors  he  enjoys  today. 

One  of  Adams'  greatest  supporters  and  technical  collaborators,  Edwin  Land, 
has  said  better  than  any  other  just  what  this  unique  Adams  aesthetic  is:  "Adams 
realized  that  even  the  most  precisely  representational  photograph  is  so  far 


removed  from  external  reality  that  he  was  free  to  use  such  photography  as  a 
point  of  departure  for  his  own  kind  of  abstraction.   That  Adams  has  chosen 
what  appears  to  be  the  most  representational  of  media  and  subjects  most 
prone  to  be  represented,  that  he  has  chosen  these  to  be  the  basis  of  his  most 
abstract  perceptions,  is  the  first  essential  step  in  his  genius.  The  challenge 
of  making  a  non-sentimental  statement  about  a  grand  insight  into  the  abstract 
is  multiplied  a  thousand-fold  when  the  components  of  the  subject  have  names 
and  reminiscences  to  characterize  them—tree  and  twig,  rock  and  boulder- 
components  assembled  furthermore  not  as  accidents  but  in  their  natural  habitats 
as  ordinary  'beautiful'  arrangements.   The  greater  the  photographic  skill  brought 
to  bear,  the  more  elegant  the  technology  employed,  the  more  serious  the  threat 
to  the  artist  who  would  lead  us  step  by  step  in  his  own  direction.   For,  as 
compared  with  the  forms  in  ordinary  abstract  art,  the  direct  derivatives  from 
reality  are  distractions  of  deadly  power. 

"Thus  the  challenge  which  Adams  undertook  to  meet  was  to  show  that  these 
meticulously  beautiful  photographs,  these  instruments  of  distraction,  could  be 
directed  by  him  towards  unified  new  insights.   He  demonstrates  that  there  is 
no  greater  aesthetic  power  than  the  conversion  of  the  familiar  into  the 
unbelievably  new." 

Aside  from  the  inventors  of  the  medium,  there  have  been  few  photographers 
who  have  made  greater  or  more  lasting  contributions  to  the  field  of  photography 
than  Ansel  Adams.   His  books  on  the  aesthetics  and  technology  of  photography 
(including  those  books  of  his  own  photographs)  are  basic  to  the  literature  of 
the  medium.   Since  1949,  he  has  been  a  consultant  to  Polaroid  Corporation, 
and  he  was  a  major  force  in  the  creation  of  the  Photography  Department  at  The 
Museum  of  Modern  Art,  the  Photography  Department  of  the  San  Francisco  Art 

Institute,  the  Friends  of  Photography  in  Carmel,  and  the  Center  for  Creative 
Photography  at  the  University  of  Arizona  in  Tucson.   He  has  helped  to  establish 
major  collections  of  his  work  and  the  work  of  others  at  major  museums  and 
recently,  with  his  wife  Virginia,  established  the  Beaumont  and  Nancy  Newhall 
Fellowship  at  The  Museum  of  Modern  Art.   In  a  different  vein,  but  still  through 
his  photography,  Adams  has  been  a  major  spokesman  for  the  Sierra  Club  (Board 
Member  1934-71)  and  remains  today  an  ardent  conservationist;  that  is,  an 
active  advocate  of  the  preservation  and  protection  of  the  natural  environment. 

Ansel  Adams  is  perhaps  the  most  well-known  20th  century  photographer 
throughout  the  Western  world.   In  fact,  his  name  is  probably  more  familiar  to 
a  greater  variety  of  people  (and  thereby  a  greater  number)  than  any  other 
visual  artist,  regardless  of  medium.   This  fame  is  not  based  on  the  murmurings 
of  an  elite  art  world  and  economy,  but  is  the  result  of  fifty  years  of  pub 
lishing  and  exhibiting  his  photographs  in  those  forums  which  allowed  him  to 
reach  the  broadest  spectrum  of  society  possible. 

If  Stieglitz  and  his  circle  are  considered  the  pioneers  of  photography 
in  modern  art,  then  Adams  may  be  considered  the  master  of  those  earlier  horizons. 
His  legacy  to  the  art  world  will  be  the  institutions  he  helped  create,  the 
technology  he  subdued,  the  photographers  he  inspired  and,  most  importantly, 
what  he  terms  his  "affirmation  of  life"--his  photographs. 

September  14,  1978  James  L.  Enyeart 


Center  for  Creative  Photography 
University  of  Arizona,  Tucson 


INTRODUCTION  by  Richard  M.  Leonard 

The  life  of  Ansel  Adams  is  happily  condensed  and  exemplified  in  a  photo 
by  his  close  friend  Cedric  Wright.   "Sermon  on  the  Mount"  shows  Ansel  with 
tripod  and  large  view  camera  on  the  summit  of  Mount  Whitney  speaking  with  almost 
religious  fervor  to  a  large  group  of  Sierra  Club  friends.  He  was  telling  of  the 
gentle  beauty  of  the  "Range  of  Light,"  Muir's  favorite  subject.  Ansel  continued 
his  love  of  the  Sierra  Nevada  for  more  than  sixty  years ,  to  a  culmination  in  the 
[forthcoming]  publication  of  his  great  scenic  book  Yosemite  and  the  Range  of  Light. 

Ansel  always  was,  and  is,  a  very  generous,  outgoing  person.  Hundreds  of 
his  finest  prints  have  been  given,  without  charge,  to  "the  cause" — any 
publication  that  would  help  public  appreciation  of  the  beauty  of  nature.  One 
time  Ansel  and  my  wife,  Doris,  were  on  photographic  business  in  Yosemite.  At 
Valley  View,  the  great  scenic  vista  of  the  valley,  two  little  old  ladies  in 
tennis  shoes  approached  Doris  asking  her  to  take  their  pictures  with  their 
camera.  Doris  suggested  the  kindly  man  with  the  handsome  beard.  They  did,  and 
Ansel  calmly  analyzed  the  controls  of  the  box  camera  and  took  a  truly  beautiful 
picture  of  them.   They  never  knew  the  fee  they  missed. 

For  almost  sixty  years  Ansel  has  been  a  member  of  the  Sierra  Club.  It  has 
been  one  of  his  greatest  joys,  and  in  later  years  one  of  immense  frustration. 
He  was  of  the  old  school,  with  views  similar  to  the  founders  of  the  club  and  to 
Colby,  LeConte,  and  Farquhar.  He  loved  the  knowledgeable  negotiations  for  more 
park  protection,  based  on  facts  as  to  the  beauty  and  importance  of  the  areas 
involved.   It  hurt  him  to  see  the  leadership  of  the  club  pass  for  a  while  into 
bitter  antagonism  to  the  land  protection  agencies,  "kicking  their  shins,"  as  he 
called  it,  instead  of  supportive  negotiation  based  on  reason. 

He  comments  in  his  text  that  I  called  him  "the  conscience  of  the  Sierra 
Club."  That  is  true.  Frank  Kittredge,  Regional  Director  of  the  National  Park 
Service,  told  the  board  of  directors  of  the  club  one  time  that  "the  administrator 
almost  always  has  to  make  financial  and  political  compromises.   If  the  Sierra 
Club's  position  is  not  far  to  the  'white,'  then  the  compromise  may  be  a  darker 
shade  of  gray." 

So  at  page  67  of  my  own  oral  history  I  stated  in  a  discussion  of  the 
"purists"  of  the  environmental  movement  that: 

"Ansel  is  so  pure  he  tried  for  at  least  ten  years  to  resign  (from  the 
club)  before  he  finally  accomplished  the  resignation  after  his  (1971) 
heart  attack.  Every  time  he  would  want  to  resign,  he  knew  me  so  well 
and  seemed  to  respect  my  views  that  I  was  always  able  to  talk  him  out 


of  it.  He  would  say  that  nobody  paid  any  attention  to  him  and  his 
views.   I  would  say,  'Yes,'  quoting  Kittredge  again,  'but  you  don't 
know  how  much  more  closer  to  the  black  we  would  have  voted  if  it 
hadn't  been  for  you  arguing  for  the  absolute  pure  white  position.' 
In  those  days  the  Sierra  Club  did  compromise  much  more  than  it  does 
today.  Ansel  was  an  absolute  purist  and  still  is." 

Upon  Ansel's  retirement  in  1971  the  board  of  directors,  in  appreciation  of 
his  thirty-seven  years  on  the  board  and  his  exceptionally  high  quality  contribu 
tions,  unanimously  elected  him  an  honorary  vice-president  of  the  Sierra  Club. 
Because  of  Ansel's  objection  to  the  new  "shin-kicking"  method  of  negotiations, 
Ansel  refused  the  honor.  In  1974  he  was  again  unanimously  elected  honorary 
vice-president,  and  again  refused  the  honor. 

Finally,  in  1978  Ansel  had  "mellowed"  a  bit,  and  the  Sierra  Club  had 
matured  beyond  the  strident  attitude  of  the  past  few  years  and  had  clearly 
accomplished  an  immense  amount  of  environmental  good.  So  Ansel  graciously 
accepted  the  honor,  a  fitting  rapprochement  in  the  fine  work  of  Ansel  and  the 
Sierra  Club  over  so  many  years. 

Richard  M.  Leonard 

Honorary  President,  Sierra  Club 

A  July  1978 
Berkeley,  California 



The  interview  with  Ansel  Adams  was  held  in  twenty-six  sessions.   The 
first  twenty-four  began  12  May  1972  and  concluded  8  September  of  that  year. 
Of  them,  the  last  five  were  devoted  to  Sierra  Club  affairs,  although  the  club 
had  been  referred  to  and  some  aspects  of  it  discussed  in  earlier  sessions. 
The  final  two  sessions  in  the  series  were  held  on  19  May  1974,  and  23  February 
1975,  and  were  concerned  principally  with  events  recent  to  those  dates. 

All  of  the  interviewing  was  done  in  Ansel  Adams's  home  at  Carmel 
Highlands,  California.   Most  were  held  in  the  comfortable  living  room;  the 
only  exception  was  the  darkroom  tour  described  in  the  interview.   All  of  the 
sessions  were  held  in  the  late  afternoons  on  Fridays,  Saturdays,  and  Sundays. 
Most  lasted  about  two  and  a  half  hours.   Mr.  Adams,  who  had  usually  spent  the 
day  working  in  his  darkroom,  viewed  the  interview  sessions  as  periods  of 
relaxation.   He  preferred  not  to  consider  the  subject  matter  in  advance  but 
to  discuss  spontaneously  whatever  was  brought  up.   The  result  is  this  informal, 
wide-ranging,  informative  series  of  conversations. 

Mr.  Adams's  editing  of  the  interview  transcript,  which  was  sent  to  him  in 
sections,  was  done  over  a  two-year  period,  in  time  fitted  into  a  busy  schedule. 
(He  read  one  section  while  confined  to  bed  with  the  flu,  another  on  a  trans- 
Atlantic  plane.)   He  made  brief  additions,  most  in  response  to  queries  by  the 
interviewers,  and  some  corrections,  but  no  extensive  changes. 

The  Regional  Oral  History  Office  is  grateful  to  Mrs.  Helen  M.  Land,  whose 
generous  contribution  to  the  Friends  of  The  Bancroft  Library  made  the  project 
possible,  and  to  the  Sierra  Club  for  a  contribution  toward  the  part  of  the 
interview  that  deals  specifically  with  the  Sierra  Club.   In  addition,  thanks 
are  due  to  Helen  M.  LeConte,  long-time  friend  of  Ansel  and  Virginia  Adams  and 
of  the  interviewer,  for  valuable  assistance  in  the  project. 

Ruth  Teiser 
Catherine  Harroun 

18  August  1978 

Regional  Oral  History  Office 

486  The  Bancroft  Library 

University  of  California  at  Berkeley 

[Interview  I  —  12  May  1972] 
[Begin  Tape  1,  Side  1] 

Education  and  the  Creative  Process 

Adams:    My  father  [Charles  Hitchcock  Adams]  was  a  very  broad-minded  man, 

and  I  guess  he  must  have  known  that  I  was  a  bit  of  a  nut,  but  he  had 
faith,  and  they  sent  me  to  various  schools.   I  didn't  do  at  all  well, 
so  then  I  got  into  music  and  decided  that  was  pretty  good,  and  my 
father  said,  "Well  now,  if  you  want  to  you  can  go  to  the  university, 
or  study  music,  and  if  you  do  music  all  I'll  ask  you  is  to  take  some 
languages  and  sciences  because  they  are  useful." 

So  I  studied  with  several  private  people — a  little  Greek,  and 
my  father  taught  me  a  little  French.   Had  a  miserable  time  with 
German — didn't  go  anywhere  with  it.   And  so  I  was  free  to  do  pretty 
much  what  I  wanted.   All  that  he  wanted  was  the  satisfaction  that  I 
was  getting  somewhere. 

It  would  have  been  extremely  difficult  today  to  have  done  that 
because  of  your  school  regulations  and  the  conventions  of  education. 
This  tends  to  worry  me  a  little  bit,  because  I  know  our  own  children 
just  had  to  go  to  the  grammar  school  and  the  high  school,  and  a  lot 
of  things  seemed  to  be  a  great  waste  of  time.  My  son  [Michael  Adams] 
-had  a  compelling  interest  in  flying.   It  was  later  on  that  he 
decided  to  become  a  doctor.   But  I  just  can't  help  thinking  of  the 

Now,  Russell  Varian  (he's  dead  now,  but  he  was  the  head  of  the 
Varian  Associates,  he  and  his  brother)  and  I  understood  that  even  in 
high  school  he  couldn't  read.   He  could  read  silently,  and  he  could 
write  pretty  well,  but  if  you  asked  him  to  read  this,  he  couldn't 
read  it  out  loud.   So  of  course  he  was  considered  a  prime  nut,  but  he 
was  a  genius  in  mathematics  and  physics,  and  on  the  basis  of  that  he 
got  into  Stanford. 

That's  impossible  today,  because  he  didn't  have  any  of  the 

Adams : 

Then  his  brother,  Sigurd,  was  a  very  fine  engineer.   You  don't 
realize  that  they  were  one  of  the  dominant  powers,  forces,  in 
the  development  of  radar.   And  here's  a  guy  who  couldn't  read 
out  loud  in  high  school!  [Laughter] 

So  the  creative  process  is  something  that  is  inevitable. 
You  can't  control  it.  You  can't  stop  it.   There's  nothing  you 
can  do  with  it.   You  can  wreck  it,  I  suppose,  but  if  a  person 
was  really  creative,  I  don't  think  he  would  get  into  drugs  and 
things.   I  think  the  impulse  is  there  and  it's  strong. 

I  guess  I'd  say  that  with  me  the  impulse  must  have  been 
there,  but  certainly  the  family  support  had  a  great  deal  to  do 
with  it. 

Family  Background  and  Childhood 

Adams : 

Teiser : 
Adams : 

My  Adams  family  came  from  New  England,  and  my  grandmother* 
spent  the  last  decade  of  her  life  trying  to  relate  us  to  the 
presidential  family,  but  it  doesn't  work.  [Laughter]   They  are 
very  distantly  related,  but  nothing  that  you'd  say  would  be 

Were  there  creative  people  in  your  family? 

Well,  Henry  Adams  was  closer.   I  don't  know  just  what  the 
relationship  was,  but  that's  almost  to  the  point  where  any 
quality  that  they  had  would  be  so  distributed  in  the  genes  that 
you  couldn't  count  on  it  after  so  many  generations  of  diffusion. 
My  grandmother's  family  was  from  Thomaston,  Maine.   That  was  the 
Hills  family,  who,  it  seems,  are  related  to  the  Hills  coffee 
people.   She  found  that  out.   She  could  trace  the  ancestry  back 
to  England,  to  Lord  Rosse**,  the  astronomer.   And  that's  all  we 
can  tell  on  that  side. 

On  the  other  side,  the  Bray  family — [to  Mrs.  Adams]  there's 
not  much  known  about  the  Bray  family,  is  there,  other  than  they 
came  from  Baltimore? 

Mrs.  Virginia 

Best  Adams:  Well,  they  had  Oliver  Cromwell  as  a  relative. 

Adams : 

They  had? 

*Cassandra  Hills  Adams,  wife  of  William  James  Adams. 
**William  Parsons,  Third  Earl  of  Rosse. 

V.  Adams: 

Adams : 
Adams : 
Adams : 

Adams : 

Yes.  Auntie  "Crumell"  they  called  her;  she  belonged  to  the  Cromwell 
family.*  I  don't  know  whether  that's  an  honor  or  not. 

I  didn't  realize  that.   So  that  would  be  several  generations  remote. 
That  was  your  mother's  family? 
That  was  my  mother's  family.** 
How  did  her  parents  get  to  Nevada? 

Well,  they  both  in  '56  came  across  the  plains  and  went  to  Sacramento— 
a  business — then  moved  to  Carson  City,  and  they  lived  in  Nevada.  My 
mother  was  born  in  Iowa,  though,  on  the  way  over.  My  father's 
father  came  west  one  or  two  times — started  a  business  and  then  went 
back  again  and  married  and  came  back  by  ship.   I  guess  he  always 
came  by  ship.   But  the  Brays  came  across  in  a  covered  wagon. 

So  then  my  grandfather  [William  James  Adams]  got  in  the  lumber 
business  and  several  things.   If  all  had  gone  well  I  might  have  been 
a  real  playboy,  but  it  didn't.   He  was  at  one  time  supposed  to  be  the 
wealthiest  lumber  man  on  the  coast,  and  there  was  a  series  of 
disasters,  a  couple  of  crashes,  and  he  lost  twenty-seven  ships  by 
fire  and  shipwreck — lumber  ships — in  twelve  or  fifteen  years.   Just 
disaster  after  disaster.   Several  mills  burned,  and  in  those  days 
the  insurance  cost  almost  as  much  as  what  was  insured,  so  if  anything 
happened,  that  was  just  a  dead  loss.   But  of  course,  the  accounting 
in  those  days — you  just  had  money  in  the  bank,  and  if  a  ship  was 
destroyed,  you  just  took  the  money  out  and  built  another  one.   I  mean 
there  was  no  such  thing  as  cost  accounting  or — if  they  took  in  a 
great  deal  of  money,  they  just  took  in  a  great  deal  of  money,  that 
was  all.   There  were  no  taxes.   It  was  so  simple  compared  to  today. 
And  offices  for  these  big  plants  had  none  of  the  present  style — I 
remember  as  a  kid  there 'd  be  a  great  big  shed,  you  know,  and  all  the 
steel  work  of  a  lumber  mill,  and  the  office  would  be  about  as  big  as 
this  alcove,  a  kind  of  mezzanine  supported  with  rods  from  the 
ceiling,  and  a  staircase.   And  then  there  were  a  couple  of  ladies, 
maybe  somebody  with  an  old-fasioned  typewriter,  and  a  couple  would 
be  writing  in  books,  and  that  was  the  office. 

For  the  lumber  mill? 

The  whole  business  went  through  just  this  little  office, 
a  couple  of  office  boys,  and  paymasters,  you  see. 

Oh,  maybe 

*She  was  a  great  aunt  of  Ansel  Adams. 
**Ansel  Adams's  mother  was  born  Olive  Bray. 

Adams:     I  know  years  ago  my  father  was  secretary  of  the  Merchants  Exchange 
[in  San  Francisco],  and  they  controlled  the  Merchants  Exchange 
Building.   Every  Friday  it  was  payday  for  the  men,  and  my  father 
would  take  the  voucher  to  the  treasurer  to  be  approved,  and  then 
go  to  the  bank  and  get  the  money — greenback  money  which  was  put  in 
little  envelopes.   And  each  man  had  his  name  on  it  and  the  amount 
due  him.   There  was  no  withholding,  nothing,  just  the  amount.   Then 
they'd  line  up,  the  janitor,  the  engineers,  and  I  used  to  help  my 
father  sometimes.  You  had  to  say  the  names:   "Mendota,"  and  Joe 
Mendota  gets  his  envelope.   Compared  to  today,  you  know,  it's 
amazing  that  business  was  that  way.   But  that's  getting  a  little  bit 
away  from  your  mission. 

I  remember  the  whole  family.  My  uncle  [William  L.  Adams]  was  a 
very  fine  doctor,  and  he  died  when  I  was  about  ten  or  twelve,  I 
think,  of  diabetes.   That  was  before  insulin.   And  he  was  a  very 
prominent  doctor,  what  they  called  a  diagnostician,  and  a  diagnostician 
in  those  days  was  the  equivalent  of  an  internist,  an  internal  medicine 
man,  today.   But  I  think  in  the  last  fifteen,  maybe  twenty  years  of 
his  practice,  he  saw  patients  only  referred  to  him  by  other  doctors, 
whereas  now  the  internist  refers  to  specialists.   All  the  other 
general  men  around  would  say,  "Well,  better  go  see  Dr.  Adams  on  that." 
He  was  the  "diagnostic  expert." 

Teiser:   Were  you  friendly  with  him? 

Adams:    He  was  a  very  nice  man.   He  was  a  good  student  of  French,  translated 
French  poetry.   His  first  wife  was  a  nurse  whom  he  met  studying 
medicine  in  Paris.   She  converted  him  to  Catholicism,  and  he 
succeeded  in  converting  half  the  family.   So  half  of  us  are  heathens, 
and  the  other  half  are  Catholics.  [Laughter]  I  think  we're  supposed 
to  be  Episcopalians  for  the  record. 

Teiser:   Did  people  read  to  you  before  you,  yourself,  read? 

Adams:    Yes,  my  father  would — very  patient.   I  read  very  early,  though.   I 
could  read  at  a  very  early  age. 

Teiser:   Teach  yourself? 

Adams:    Oh,  I  guess  so;  just  read,  you  know.   I  had  a  phenomenal  memory.   At 
the  age  of  twelve  I  could  look  at  a  page  and  recite  it.   In  fact, 
even  when  I  was  first  studying  music  I  could  take  a  thing  to  bed  and 
read  it  at  night  and  play  it  the  next  morning.   I  could  see  the  notes. 
That  facility  left  me  at  about  sixteen,  seventeen.   I  lost  that.   Now 
I  have  one  of  the  world's  worst  memories.  But  that's  all  right.  It's 
perfectly  natural  that  you  lose  that  kind  of  memory  because  so  many 
other  things  come  into  the  mind.   I  think  that  the  reason  I  have  a  bad 
memory  now  is  that  there  isn't  any  room.   I've  got  so  many  things 

Adams:    going  on  and  thinking  about,  that  I  meet  somebody  and  I  hear  the  name 
and  I  forget  it.   I  forget  how  to  spell  it.   And  then  it's  very 
embarrassing,  because  I  remember  the  face.   I  can't  remember  the  years 
the  pictures*  were  taken  in,  but  I  can  remember  the  situation  of 
taking  them.   I  can  go  right  back,  and  in  most  cases  I  can  see  the 
camera,  the  lens.   I  can  tell  you  the  exposures.   I  can  remember  that 
phase  very  clearly,  and  a  great  many  things  way  back  to  the  middle  of 
the  1920s.   I  can  pretty  much  point  to  the  camera,  the  lens.   I  can 
remember  I  did  this  with  the  second  Zeiss  Protar  I  had.   I  remember 
that  this  was  a  very  wide-angle  lens  with  the  smallest  stop,  which  was 
actually  f/56,  and  you  know,  I  can  remember  these  things.   But  as  for 
the  dates,  I  can't  remember  those  at  all,  and  that  drives  my  friend 
Beaumont  Newhall,  the  historian,  out  of  his  mind  because  some  of  my 
pictures  appear  with  three  or  four  different  dates  on  the  back,  so  I 
use  the  word  "circa"  now.   So  it  will  be  "circa  early  twentieth 
century."  [Laughter] 

Another  very  important  thing  was  the  location.   When  I  was  one 
year  old  we  moved  out  to  the  new  house  in  San  Francisco  because  my 
father  wanted  to  be  in  the  country.   It  was  right  in  the  middle  of 
the  sand  dunes  near  the  ocean,  and  an  old  house  a  block  or  so  away 
from  us  was  the  nearest  house.   I  can  remember — just  a  little  kid — I'd 
sit  at  the  window  and  watch  my  father — in  the  carriage  (they  had  a  man 
at  the  end  of  the  line  at  First  Avenue) — he'd  come  out  on  the  street 
car  to  First  Avenue,  and  there  were  two  carriages  that  ran  up  and  down 
Lake  Street.   And  you'd  have  to  wait  maybe  fifteen,  twenty  minutes, 
get  in  the  carriages,  and  we'd  see  Papa  and  the  horse  clumping  out 
Lake  Street  and  he  would  get  off  at  Twenty-fourth  Avenue  and  walk 
down  on  a  board  walk  through  the  sand  to  the  house.   I've  got  all 
those  memories — the  wild  country  and  the  beautiful  flowers  and  Lobos 
Creek,  and  the  fog  horns,  and  Bakers  Beach  right  down  below.   You  know, 
you  had  a  feeling  of  very  close  contact  with  nature. 

And  a  very  interesting  thing,  when  they  started  developing  the 
area,  there  was  a  man  named  S.  [Stephen]  A.  Born,  a  contractor,  who 
built  the  houses  now  in  Westclay  Park.   He  did  some  of  Seacliff,  but 
Westclay  Park  was  his  area.   And  he  was  a  very  fine  builder,  I  mean 
he  always  put  more  wood  in  than  was  needed.   Some  of  those  houses  are 
just  as  sturdy  as  a  rock.   I  know  a  friend  of  mine  has  a  house  that 
he  built  in  1918,  1916  I  guess,  and  that  house  is  absolutely  solid. 
You  know  its  timbers — wonderful  construction!   But  he  used  to  let  me 
go  over  to  the  work  room  and  shed  and  draw  plans,  and  the  architect 
and  draftsmen  were  very  kind  and  would  show  me  how  to  draw,  you  know, 
building  plans — what  an  elevation  was,  and  space  problems.   I  still 
remember  all  that  very  clearly.   I  could  have  been  an  architect. 

*Ansel  Adams's  photographs. 

Teiser:   How  old  were  you  when  you  were  interested  in  this? 

Adams:    Ten,  eight  or  ten.   So  I  learned  a  great  deal  of  that.  And  that 
helped  precision  of  thinking.  Now,  this  is  all  very  important, 
because  that  gave  me  a  certain  precision.  Well,  you  draw  a  straight 
line  and  measure  it,  you  see.  Even  showed  me  how  they  form  a  drawing, 
leave  spaces  for  the  rug,  how  to  figure  all  the  different  dimensions, 
and  how  to  draw  an  arch.  You  know,  I  just  learned — the  guy  loved  to 
teach  me  these  things,  and  he'd  give  me  a  T-square  and  a  little  desk, 
and  I'd  sit  over  there  in  the  corner  and  work. 

He  said  once  that  I  had  a  couple  of  good  ideas  and  he  was  going 
to  use  them.   I  don't  know  what  they  were. 

Studying  the  Piano 

Adams:    Well,  the  next  thing  as  far  as  precision  goes,  the  training  in 

music,  which  was  with  an  elderly  maiden  lady,  Miss  Marie  Butler,  who 
was  a  long-time  associate  with  the  New  England  Conservatory  of  Music. 
She  came  from  a  Unitarian  family  from  Boston,  very  precise  and 
extremely  accurate,  and  had  the  patience  of  Job  because  I  was  really 
pretty  scatterbrained.   She  told  my  father  that  I  had  talent,  it  was 
obvious,  but  I  never  was  going  to  get  anywhere  unless  I  had  discipline, 
and  the  discipline  might  take  anywhere  from  six  months  to  five  years. 
Was  he  willing  to  stick  it  out?   I  mean  she  was  perfectly  frank.   She 
said,  "He's  extremely  scatterbrained.  He  looks  out  the  window.  He 
thinks  of  something  else."  My  father  said,  "Keep  at  him,"  so  I  had 
her  for  years. 

It  finally  got  to  the  point  when  I  would  do,  say,  a  Bach 
Invention,  it'd  have  to  be  note  perfect.   I  mean  it,  there  was  no 
compromise,  and  if  I  didn't,  "Bring  it  back  next  Friday."  I  mean  no 
soft  decision.   I'd  get  so  damn  sick  of  that  thing  that  I'd  just  go 
out  of  my  mind.   But  I  finally,  by  feeling  obligated,  I  just  did  it. 
So,  I  would  do  it.   Fine.   I  would  go  to  something  else,  and  on,  and 
on.   Beethoven,  Chopin,  Schumann.  And  this  perfection,  and  the  quality 
of  tone  which  I  learned  from  her  and,  of  course,  my  finger  technique — 
my  hands  weren't  heavy,  so  it  was  impact,  you  know:   lift,  strike  and 
relax.   The  idea  is  you  strike  a  key  but  you  relax  immediately  and 
slightly  lift  the  key;  that's  part  of  the  first  exercise  you  do,  to 
get  that  dynamic  thing,  and  then  the  release.   So  that  gave  you  a 
terrific  tempo,  you  see,  and  very  crisp  sound — and  that  built  up, 
well,  a  dependency  on  accuracy.   She  wouldn't  tolerate  any  sloppiness. 
I  remember  one  day  she  said,  "Well,  now,  I'm  very  happy  about  you, 
and  you've  gone  as  far  as  you  can  go  with  me,  and  I  think  you  now 
should  study  with  Professor  [Frederick]  Zech.   (Old  man  then,  seventy- 
eight.)  And  he  had  studied  with  and  assisted  Von  Bulow. 

Adams:    And  he  was  a  real  Germanic — you  know,  incredible,  I'll  never  forget-- 
he'd  demonstrate  technical  passages,  the  only  thing  he'd  ever  demon 
strate  with  me.   And  he  said,  "Well,  you're  a  little  weak  on  your 
double  fourths  and  thirds  and  sixths."  He  said,  "You  must  play  sixths 
like  this."  And  here  was  this  chromatic  cascade  of  double  sixths,  you 
see.  [Laughter]   I'll  never  forget  hearing  this,  but  it  was  a  totally 
impossible  thing.   But  I  did  it,  I  got  it!   But  never  any  one  of  the 
teachers  played  for  me  just  the  plain  music,  on  an  imitative  basis. 
It  was  all  done  by  encouraging  that  you  ask  yourself,  "Did  this  sound 
right?"  or, "Do  you  think  you  really  shaped  that  phrase?"  You  know, 
this  dialectic  thing. 

After  Zech  I  went  for  six  weeks  to  a  woman  called  Elizabeth 
Simpson  in  Berkeley,  who  was  one  of  those  most  satisfactory  teachers 
as  far  as  the  facility  of  her  class  was  concerned,  and  she  taught 
with  two  pianos,  which  is  I  think  the  most  deadly  thing  you  can  do, 
because  all  of  her  class  sounded  just  like  her;  no  individuality. 
Now,  my  father  was  pretty  sensitive,  because  I  came  back  after  a 
couple  of  lessons,  and  I  was  playing  Schubert,  and  he  came  over  and 
he  said,  "What's  happened,  it  doesn't  sound  like  you?"  And  I  said, 
"What  do  you  mean  it  doesn't  sound  like  me?"  He  said,  "Well,  the 
style  is  not  you.   You  know,  I've  been  listening  to  you  now  for  quite 
a  few  years."  And  it  occurred  to  me,  well,  my  gosh,  she  was  "showing" 
me.   She  was  playing  a  phrase — leading  me  on — and  I  went  a  few  more 
weeks  and  went  to  a  recital,  and  it  all  became  perfectly  clear  that 
it  was  parroting.   And  she  just  simply  taught  that  way.   She  had 
immense  success.   They  all  played  exceedingly  well,  but  they  all 
sounded  just  like  she  did.   (Do  cats  bother  you?  Because  this  one  is 
very  friendly.) 

Well,  then  I  went  to  Ben  [Benjamin  S.]  Moore  who  was  an  organist- 
pianist,  and  he  was  a  very  great  influence  on  my  life  because  he  was 
also  a  philosopher  and  gave  the  music  another  dimension.   He  was  also 
a  purist.  And  that  was  the  end  of  my  musical  training.   I  worked 
with  him  for  years — five  or  six  years,  I  guess. 

Beginning  in  Photography 

Adams:    Then  gradually  I  got  off  into  photography,  and  pretty  soon  I'm  in 
photography  professionally! 

But  the  important  thing  is  that  these  precisions  were  un 
obtainable  in  the  photographic  world.  There  was  no  school  of 
photography,  nothing  but  going  out  and  apprenticing  yourself  to 
someone  who  did  photof inishing,  which  I  did  for  a  couple  of  summers, 
You  know,  you  learned  how  to  "soup  a  print,"  as  they  called  it  and, 

Adams:    oh,  terrible  stuff — but  there  was  no  school  relationship,  no 

academic  contact  or  anything,  and  there  were  just  two  or  three  very 
good  photographers  who  were  terribly  jealous.   [William  E. ] 
Dassonville  was  very  kind  to  me.   He  made  photographic  papers,  and 
he  helped  me  a  great  deal.   The  other  photographers  were  nice  enough, 
but,  gee,  they  just  hated  to  give  away  secrets,  you  know — as  if  there 
were  secrets  in  simple  technology! 

I  remember  Moulin*,  the  old  man.   He  had  a  big  factory — I'm  sure 
you  know  of  it — in  San  Francisco.   A  big  place.   He  called  me  up  once 
and  he  said,  "Mr.  Adams,  I  know  we  photographers  don't  like  to  give 
away  our  secrets  because  it's  all  we've  got.   I  don't  know  how  you 
feel  about  it,  but  I've  got  to  ask  a  question.   Something  I  just 
don't  know,  and  it  bothers  me."  I  said,  "Well,  Mr.  Moulin,  I  have 
no  secrets,  but  I'm  not  an  encyclopedia."  He  said,  "What  does 
potassium  bromide  do  in  the  developer?" 

Now,  that  is  like  asking,  "What  does  salt  do  in  soup?"  or  "What 
does  yeast  do  in  bread?"  It  is  one  of  the  fundamentals,  a  restrainer, 
and  it's  been  around  for  nearly  a  century,  and  it  simply  keeps  the 
developer  grains  from  developing  themselves  where  they  have  not  been 
exposed  to  light,  so  it  prevents  fog,  and  most  developers  are  active 
enough  to  always  develop  a  certain  amount  of  grains  that  have  not 
been  affected  by  light,  and  then  you  get  this  fog.   You  see,  if  it 
has  a  little  restrainer,  which  is  bromide,  it  puts  bromide  back  into 
the  halide  crystals,  and  this  "clears  the  whites."  But  here  is  this 
man  who  was  the  biggest  photographer  in  the  city,  and  had  the  biggest 
business  and  the  biggest  staff,  and  nobody  on  his  staff  or  he  knew 
what  potassium  bromide  did. 

But  of  course  if  I  really  had  to  tell  you  what  potassium  bromide 
did  and  describe  the  chemical  structure,  the  reaction,  that  would  be 
far  beyond  me  from  the  point  of  view  of  a  chemist.   This  is  a  very 
complicated  physical  chemistry  step.   But  for  all  intents  and  purposes, 
you  know  what  it  does  when  you  add  it  to  the  developer.   You  add 
seasoning  to  food  and  you  don't  chemically  analyze  seasoning;  you  ask 
for  saffron  or,  you  know,  pepper  or  something,  but  you  don't  give  the 
chemical  analysis  of  it.   But  at  that  time,  you  see,  we  weren't  getting 
information  from  anybody.   Everybody  either  didn't  know  or  wouldn't 

Teiser:   This  would  have  been  when? 
Adams:    The  twenties. 

*Gabriel  Moulin,  founder  of  a  major  San  Francisco  photography  studio. 

Teiser:    I  see.   That  late. 

Adams:    The  end  of  the  twenties.  And  the  Moulin  episode  came  in  the  thirties. 
At  that  time  there  were  only  a  few — there  was  Ann  Brigman,  there  was 
Imogen  Cunningham,  there  was  Dorothea  Lange,  Consuelo  Kanaga,  William 
Dassonville.   As  far  as  I  know,  they  were  the  only  photographers  in 
the  area  who  had  any  creativity.   (Well,  I  was  on  that  side  of  the 
fence.)   And  Dassonville  did  portraits,  pretty  good  ones,  although 
to  the  "trade;"  it  was  soft-focus,  and  on  soft  papers.   Imogen  was 
doing  portraits.   I  guess  she  was  the  best;  she  had  the  greatest 
variety  of  approach.   Dorothea  Lange  was  doing  portraits  and  some 
Indian  work,  not  very  good.   Didn't  have  any  technique.   Consuelo 
Kanaga  was  a  delightful  woman  and  imaginative  artist,  but  again,  no 
technique.   They  were  trying  to  say  something  in  a  language  you  can't 

So  then  when  I  first  started  in  serious  photography — that's 
1930 — it  was  people  like  Willard  Van  Dyke  and  Edward  Weston  that 
came  on  the  scene.   Of  course,  they  found  that  here  we  had  all  these 
damn  camera  club  people  with  hideous  taste,  imitative  stuff,  soupy 
sentimental  business.   A  lot  of  them  had  a  very  fine  mechanical 
technique,  which  was  always  very  irritating  to  me.  [Laughter]   They 
knew  a  lot  about  it,  you  know,  but  what  they  did  was  terrible 
aesthetically.   And  that  led  into  Group  f/64,  and  this  is  probably 
another  chapter  entirely.   I'm  going  way  ahead. 

Youthful  Experiences 

Adams:    I'd  say  that  my  first  experience  in  nature  was  a  regional 

experience;  of  Bakers  Beach  and  that  whole  western  part  of  the  City, 
which  profoundly  influenced  me;  the  storms  and  the  fogs  and  all  this 
open  space.   Why  I  didn't  get  killed  a  hundred  times  on  those 
Golden  Gate  cliffs  I  don't  know.   I  used  to  go  out  to  Land's  End  and 
climb  all  over  without  knowing  how  to  climb,  and  all  alone.   I  got 
into  some  tight  situations. 

Teiser:   Did  you  play  alone  a  good  deal  of  the  time? 
Adams:    Oh,  yes,  yes. 
Teiser:   You  did? 

Adams:  Yes,  I  didn't  have — well,  there  were  a  few  boys  in  the  neighborhood. 
Nothing  really  happened  that  way.  It  was  interesting;  I  didn't  have 
any  real  friends.  I  just  didn't  need  them.  I  don't  know. 


Adams:    But  the  other  experience  was  then  going  to  Puget  Sound  to  my  father's 
plant.   It  was  after  1912  when  he  started  the  plant  to  recoup  the 
family  fortune,  and  we  had  this  property  on  Puget  Sound.   He  acquired 
the  rights  to  the  Classen  process.   Now,  this  is  chemically  interest 
ing,  but  today  things  have  superseded  it.   It  was  a  way  of  making 
industrially  pure  alcohol,  ethyl  alcohol,  not  methyl  or  wood  alcohol 
but  just  industrially  pure  ethyl  alcohol,  200  proof,  from  cellulose. 
They  decided  that  that  area  was  magnificent  because  of  all  the 
sawdust  and  the  slash,  and  all  the  available  wood  material  which  the 
lumber  mills  would  just  love  to  get  rid  of,  and  they'd  send  the  barges 
around  all  over  the  Sound  and  collect  tons  of  this  stuff,  and  then 
come  back  and  go  through  this  Classen  chemical  process  which  involved 
treatment  by  sulphurous  acid,  and  they  made — we  still  have  some — 200 
proof  alcohol.   It's  as  pure  as  anything  you'll  ever  get,  and  more 
potent,  easily  drinkable.   The  residue  of  that,  the  cellulose,  was 
then  mixed  with  molasses  and  a  few  other  things  (they  didn't  know 
about  vitamins  then,  but  "enrichments")  and  it  was  sold  as  cattle  food. 
It  was  called  Bastol,  and  that  had  a  great  future  because  it  was 
relatively  light  in  relation  to  energy,  and  it  could  be  mixed  with 
hay  or  grain. 

And  what  happened  in  this  case  was  that  industrial  alcohol  was 
at  that  time  a  by-product  of  the  sugar  industry  (the  sugar  cane 
residue).   And  the  Hawaiian  sugar  trust — you  can  literally  say  that 
the  group  got  together  and  decided  that  this  company  can't  go  on. 
And  they  bought  out  every  share  of  stock  they  could  get,  and  my 
father's  brother-in-law*  was  bribed  and  he  sold  out  and  betrayed  him. 
It  was  a  terrible  blow.   My  father's  lawyer  betrayed  him.   They  sold 
their  stock  and  got  out  of  it,  for  a  price.   It  was  a  terrible  blow 
to  Papa,  and  they  got  54  percent  control  of  the  stock,  threw  everybody 
out,  put  in  a  dummy  board,  and  wrecked  the  plant. 

Now,  it  was  so  important  to  them,  they  didn't  even  try  to 
salvage  some  of  this  beautiful  equipment — the  machinery  was  wrecked. 
Of  course  with  the  S.E.C.  today  and  the  rules  we  have,  that  couldn't 
happen.   There's  no  possible  way  that  you  could  do  a  thing  like  that. 
You  could  buy  the  stock,  but  you  couldn't  put  it  out  of  business,  you 
see — protection  of  other  stockholders  is  important.   Of  course,  a  lot 
of  people  lost  quite  a  little  money  in  it,  and  my  father  was  just 
ruined,  and  of  course  in  a  terrible  state  over  this  financial 
catastrophe,  because  he  was  always  a  person  of  the  highest  integrity. 
But  when  someone  of  his  own  family,  whom  I  was  named  after...!   That's 
why  I  don't  use  my  middle  name.   Ansel  Easton  was  unspeakable  as  far 
as  I'm  concerned,  because  I  know  what  he  did.   My  father  in  fact  felt 
so  much  for  him  he  named  me  after  him,  Ansel  Easton,  and  unfortunately, 
I  have  to  use  that  name  legally,  and  I  just  hate  it.   But  you  notice  I 
don't  use  it  in  any  correspondence  or  in  relation  to  my  work.  My 

*Ansel  Easton;  see  paragraph  following. 


Adams:    professional  name  is  Ansel  Adams.   But  that  was  a  family  disruption 
and,  of  course,  part  of  the  family  went  with  them,  and  the  other 
part  stayed  with  us. 

Teiser:   How  old  were  you  when  that  happened,  about? 

Adams:    Oh,  I  guess  I  was  about  twelve  or  thirteen  when  it  happened. 

Teiser:   Were  you  upset  by  that? 

Adams:    Well,  I  knew  something  had  happened,  because  we  went  from  a  cook  and 
a  maid  and  a  governess  to  doing  it  all  yourself!  [Laughter]   You  know 
what  I  mean — quite  down  and  out.   Papa  spent  a  lot  of  time  after  that 
trying  to  recoup  his  plant.   And  they  had  an  antimony  process,  and 
inferior  people  in  management.   The  Bank  of  California,  which  my 
grandfather  helped  found,  had  carried  the  loans  and  mortgages  on  the 
properties  for  years  and  years,  and  finally  the  law  caught  up  with 
them  and  they  said,  "We  have  to  call  the  loan."  But  it  was  with 
great  regrets.   I  mean  my  father's  word  was  like  my  grandfather's. 
He'd  go  in  and  say,  "I  need  a  thousand  dollars."  "Well,  here  it  is." 
It  was  just  this  kind  of  an  honorable  thing. 

I  haven't  had  to  lately,  but  in  the  last  twenty  years — fifteen — 
I  had  to  go  to  the  Wells  Fargo  or  the  Bank  of  California  and  borrow 
five  thousand  or  so — got  a  job  coming  up — and  they'd  say,  "Oh,  yes, 
sure,  Mr.  Adams,  we  don't  need  any  collateral  with  you."  And,  you 
know,  you  think,  "Well,  that  ain't  bad,"  [laughter]  to  have  that 
reputation.   Of  course,  legally,  they  have  to  show  something 

Yes,  I  think  it  did  have  an  effect  on  all  of  us,  and  I  think  it 
probably  was  something  that  stirred  me  to  think  realistically  when  I 
first  went  to  the  Sierra  with  my  family  in  1916,  when  I  was  fourteen 
years  old.   I  think  my  mother  reacted  very  badly  to  this  catastrophe, 
and  I  think  that  tension  probably  encouraged  me  to  go  more  into  the 

So,  as  I  said  I  went  early  to  Puget  Sound,  and  then  we  went  down 
to  the  Santa  Cruz  mountains,  and  then  my  father  became  secretary  to 
the  Astronomical  Society  [of  the  Pacific],  and  we  used  to  go  down  to 
Mount  Hamilton  often.   I  never  went  East  until  1933.   Oh,  yes,  we  did 
make  a  trip  to  Los  Angeles  when  I  was  about  nine  or  ten,  and  we 
stayed  at  the  Alexandria  Hotel,  and  I  remember  going  around  and 
seeing  oranges  and  snow  peaks  and  ostriches,  and  I  can  remember  this 
brilliant,  clear  airl   Still  can  recall  it!   Something  like  Santa  Fe, 
New  Mexico,  has  today.   Certain  moods  in  areas.   I  still  remember 
that  well  in  Los  Angeles;  we  were  there  about  six  weeks. 

Harroun:   That  was  about  1910? 


Adams:    That  was  1910  or  '12,  yes.   We  went  on  the  streetcars — the  Pacific 
Electric  Railway.   But  absolutely  clear,  you  know,  I  recall  that 
whole  feeling  of  clarity.   It  was  like  this  place,  really,  as  it  is 
now.  [Carmel  Highlands] 

Teiser:   Were  you  conscious  as  a  youngster  that  things  impressed  you  visually? 

Adams:    Yes,  very  much  so.   (Do  you  want  anything  now  to  drink,  soft,  hard, 

Teiser:  No,  not  a  thing. 

Adams:  You've  met  Jim  Taylor? 

Teiser:  No,  we  haven't.   How  do  you  do. 

Adams:  I  would  have  introduced  you,  but  I  was  swallowing. 

Visualization  and  Music 

Teiser:   You  said  you  were  aware  that  you  had  a  particular  visual  sense? 

Adams:    Yes,  I  think  I  always  had.   There  comes  a  romantic  period  when  you 
can  visualize  literary  realities.   Say  you  hear  music,  and  you — 
well,  you're  reminded  of  certain  things.   You  see  tangible  images, 
and  that's  the  basis  of  all  these  terrible  titles  some  music  has, 
like  Moonlight  Sonata.   Whoever  thought  of  moonlight  rippling  on 
the  water?   I  never  got  that  corny.   The  Moonlight  Sonata  was 
always  a  bad  example,  but  you  did  get  such  things  as  the  "Legendes" 
of  Liszt,  "St.  Francis  of  Assisi  Preaching  to  the  Birds,"  and  "St. 
Francis  of  Paulus  Walking  on  the  Waves."  This  is  pictorial  music. 
Well,  at  one  age  of  life  I'd  get  into  that  kind  of  direct  pictorial- 
ism.   I  guess  you'd  call  it  "literary."  But  then  it  wasn't  very 
much  later — about  five  years — before  my  visual  impression  of  music 
was  quite  abstract.   I  guess  I  got  that  mostly  from  Ben  Moore  and  the 
music  of  Scriabin.   But  I'd  remember  everything  I'd  seen  very  clearly, 
and  that's  why  the  camera  was  so  rewarding.   I  would  capture  what  I 
saw,  and  the  dissatisfaction  that  the  image  wasn't  what  I'd  really 
"seen"  was  one  of  the  things  that  kept  me  going.   The  average  person 
just  goes  "click"  and  there's  Grandma,  and  that's  the  satisfaction 
with  the  image.   But  in  my  case,  the  required  image  or  the  ideal 
image  which  we  see  and  hear  was  not  casually  seen  in  the  photograph; 
therefore  I  worked  hard  to  get  it.   And  when  I  got  it,  that  was  the 
beginning  of  my  real  photography,  and  the  actual  visualization, 
where  you  look  into  the  world,  you  see  a  combination  of  shapes,  and 
you  see  them  in  terms  of  the  final  picture.  You  don't  see  them 


Adams:    "outside"  any  more.   And  then  you've  got  to  get  your  eye,  your 
camera,  and  everything  around  you  into  that  position  which  will 
support  that  visualization.   It's  all  intuitive.   It  has  to  come 
very  quickly.   That  means  you  have  to  practice.   If  I  don't  go  out 
with  the  camera  for  quite  a  while,  I  find  myself  very,  very  clumsy. 
I've  just  lost  physical  contact  with  the  camera. 

I  have  a  little  difficulty  seeing  and  framing  my  images.   Like, 
what  would  I  do  with  you  [Harroun]  sitting  there  with  your  pencil 
and  pad?   I  could  go  "click"  and  get  a  perfectly  good  record  of  you, 
which  you  would  date  on  the  back,  and  it  would  be  very  valuable.   I 
think  I  have  enough  mechanics  to  get  a  good  exposure,  but  that 
wouldn't  be  a  picture.   The  picture  would  be  the  combination  of  all 
the  relationships,  the  black  line  on  your  dress,  and  the  black  lines 
on  the  blanket  [on  the  couch],  and-  the  element  of  light,  and  the 
distractions  of  the  environment  to  get  rid  of.   If  you  can't  get  rid 
of  it,  use  it.   But  it's  all  quite  plain  in  the  end!   Thousands  of 
things  are  going  on  at  one  time,  and  you  can't  be  aware  of  all  those 
things,  and  you  can't  add  conventions  to  it,  because  if  you  did  that 
you'd  ruin  it. 

It's  just  the  way  you  practice  the  piano  for  years  to  get  a 
facility  in  your  fingers,  tone  control,  shaping,  dynamics,  and  when 
you  play  you  can't  think  of  all  the  elements;  you  just  do  it.   One 
example,  a  friend  said,  "Well,  you  take  the  C  Major  Sonata  of  Weber 
and  you  take  the  last  movement,  the  Perpetual  Motion  and  the  Rondo. 
You're  playing  four  parts,  sixteen  hundred  notes  a  minute."  You  have 
to  have  your  harmonics,  your  dynamics  (which  is  phrase  shape),  your 
rhythm  or  your  accent,  and  then  above  all  that,  the  pecular  thing 
in  music — the  style — the  intangibles.   And  you  practice.  You're  a 
musician;  you've  spent  ten  years  or  twenty,  and  you  play  this  thing. 
And  if  you  tried  to  even  put  it  in  a  computer  (it  is  going  through 
a  mental  computer) — but  there's  no  ordinary  computer  made  that  can 
handle  what  you're  doing. 

Anticipation  in  Music  and  Photography 

Adams:    I  was  talking  about  this  just  a  little  while  ago.   The  mind  is  so 
far  ahead  of  the  computer  except  in  some  things,  but  in  music,  you 
see,  we're  anticipating.   We  have  a  whole  new  pattern  of  thinking, 
unconscious  thought.   You  are  anticipating  things  with  appreciation 
of  a  tenth  of  a  second's  psycho-physical  lag.   And  you're  hearing 
harmonics,  and  the  harmonics  are  developing  in  such  a  way  that  at 
a  certain  point  you  instinctively  know  you're  ready  for  the  next 
note.   If  you  waited  a  tenth  of  a  second  until  those  harmonics  had 
resolved,  you'd  be  late.   So,  that's  part  of  the  structure  that 

Adams:    people  don't  think  about.   I  mean,  when  you  hear  music,  that's  what 
you  hear.  You  hear  this  tremendously  complex  thing  which  can  be 
broken  down  into  a  few  categories,  but  it's  really  beyond  literary 
definition.   You  can  make  a  record  of  it.   Of  course,  you  don't  get 
everything,  even  the  finest  records  are  not  complete,  but  they  are 
very  close  to  it.  You  can  break  those  records  down  on  oscilloscopes. 
I've  seen  violin  records  broken  down,  recorded  and  then  re-recorded 
slow,  cutting  out,  cutting  down  to  one-hundredth  the  time,  and  then 
making  oscillographs  and  measuring  the  harmonics.   I  was  absolutely 
fascinated  with  the  complexity.   You  finally  get  a  pattern  where 
this  other  note — this  thing  which  on  the  piano  would  be  touch  or 
on  the  violin  which,  I  guess,  would  be  intonation — why  one  is 
beautiful  and  the  other  isn't,  and  yet  they  are  the  same  notes,  and 
everything  superficially  the  same. 

And  the  same  thing  with  the  camera.   I  mean  ten  people  can  go  to 
exactly  the  same  scene  and  get  ten  totally  different  images,  although 
they  might  have  the  cameras  in  the  same  position.   Superficially  the 
tree  and  the  rock  would  be  the  same,  but  there's  something  else,  you 
see.   There's  the  way  they  felt  it,  visualized  it,  composed  it, 
exposed  it,  developed  it,  and  printed  it.   I  guess  I'm  wandering  a 
little  bit. 

Teiser:   No,  no,  this  is  just  fine.   Is  there  a  parallel  in  the  sequential 
character  of  music  as  you  were  just  discussing  it  and  the  sequence 
of  events  in  a  photograph — or  is  that  stretching  it? 

Adams:    No,  no.  My  work  is  fundamentally  static.   In  other  words,  I  see  the 
scene,  and  the  scene  is  changing  at  a  very  slow  rate.   I'm  not 
talking  about  a  spectacular  wave  coming  in  or  clouds  moving,  but  I 
mean  the  natural  scene  is  there,  and  I  can  think  about  it  and  compose 
and  move  around  and  get  this  rock  or  tree  right.   You  know,  I  have 
command  of  it.   Now,  you  take  somebody  like  [Henri]  Car tier-Bresson 
(and  I've  done  some  of  his  kind  of  work,  I  know  directly  what  it 
means).   His  things  are  in  motion.   And  the  average  candid  so-called 
photographer  just  gets  people  on  the  fly.   But,  there  again  is  this 
anticipation,  and  this  might  interest  you.   I  was  teaching  at  the 
Art  Center  School.   We  were  working  with  students  (this  was  before 
the  second  [world]  war),  Signal  Corps  people,  photographers. 

Gee,  it  was  pretty  hard.  We  didn't  have  much  time  with  them, 
and  they  were  in  the  army,  but  they  were  studying  to  use  the  Speed 
Graphic.   Well,  a  very  intelligent  general,  one  of  the  few  intelligent 
generals  I've  known,  said,  "I  know  you  people  are  interested  in  the 
art  phase,  and  that's  why  we  want  you  to  do  this,  because  we  can  find 
all  kinds  of  mechanical  people  who  can  give  us  the  answers,  but 
they're  not  the  kind  of  answers  that  we  want.   We'd  like  to  get  these 
boys  to  see  and  to  anticipate.   Say  you're  out  in  combat,  something 
is  happening.   You  can't  wait  until  something  happens  and  then  take  a 
picture  of  it.   It's  happened  so  fast  that  you'll  be  late. 


Adams:    So  part  of  the  training  that  went  on  for  weeks — I'd  be  upstairs 
looking  around  in  the  street  for  something,  and  suddenly  see  a 
streetcar,  a  block  away,  and  I'd  yell  downstairs,  "Let's  go!"  They'd 
all  arrive  with  their  camera  cases  and  I'd  say,  "Catch  the  front  of 
the  streetcar  in  juxtaposition  with  that  big  power  pole — I  must  see 
a  precise  juxtaposition."  Well,  they  opened  the  case,  they  got  out 
the  camera,  they  judged  the  distance  (we  had  a  lot  of  focus  controls)- 
"That's  a  hundred  feet."  They'd  taken  the  light  value  measurements 
and  they  knew  the  approximate  exposure,  and  then  they  were  ready. 

Now  the  point  was,  if  you  waited  until  you  saw  that  car  line  up 
with  the  pole,  then  it'd  be  way  over  and  beyond,  because  you  have  at 
least  a  tenth  of  a  second  lag.   About  a  third  of  the  students  could 
hit  it  right  on  the  nose,  could  anticipate  the  juxtaposition.   Some 
of  them  would  get  nervous,  you  see,  and  more  than  anticipate,  so 
they'd  shoot  too  early.   Then,  well,  after  several  weeks  we'd  have 
about  90  percent  of  them  doing  an  exact  job.   Of  course  we  wouldn't 
go  back  to  the  same  subject,  but  they'd  be  more  relaxed  and  see  the 
problem  more  clearly  as  time  went  on. 

[End  Tape  1,  Side  1] 
[Begin  Tape  1,  Side  2] 

Adams:    Well,  to  take  this  element  of  anticipation,  which  is  essential,  I 

think  I  explained  that  is  inevitable  in  music,  although  people  don't 
think  of  it  in  that  sense,  but  in  the  event — seeing  that  the  event 
doesn't  trigger  itself,  at  the  point  of  the  event,  but  goes. through 
our  ears,  our  "computer"  recognition,  motor  impulse,  and  nerve  and 
muscle.   I  still  have  a  very  high  reaction,  but  as  you  get  older  it 
gets  slower,  and  I  still  run  I  think  a  twelfth,  and  as  high  as  a 
fifteenth  of  a  second  on  light  impulse.   You  know,  you  can  have 
standard  tests,  and  when  the  light  flashes  you  react.   Well,  you'd  be 
surprised;  you  think  you  are  fast,  but  then  you  see  the  graph,  and 
here's  the  light  impulse  and  here's  your  response,  and  if  you're 
tired  the  response  shows  more  delay. 

Anyway,  creative  people  like  Cartier-Bresson  use  this  anticipa 
tion  factor  in  a  highly  creative  sense,  and  he  was  able  to  get  these 
marvelous  compositions  of  people  in  motion.   It  wasn't  only  one 
person;  there  may  be  as  many  as  five  all  functioning  together.   He 
has  an  uncanny  sense — gestalt  patterns,  perhaps.   We  don't  know  how 
to  explain  it,  but  in  many,  many  of  his  pictures,  four  or  five 
people  will  be  seen  in  the  ideal  moment,  and  that's  why  the  title  of 
his  book,  The  Decisive  Moment  is  so  apt,  because  it  is  that  decisive 
moment.   When  he  operated  the  shutter,  his  "computer"  decided  the 
decisive  moment.   The  real  decisive  moment  is  when  the  shutter 
operated,  which  was  at  least  a  tenth  of  a  second  after  he'd  given 
the  signal.   So,  he  must  have  anticipated  in  the  creative  sense  of 
the  term. 


Adams:     I  can  make  a  probe  and  hit  this  metal  and  in  a  millionth  of  a 
second  I'll  get  a  response  from  this  dial,  but  that's  a  direct 
contact.   But  if  this  is  moving,  and  it  has  to  go  through  my 
mechanism,  then  operate  the  shutter,  at  the  moment  when  I  think 
that's  right  it'll  be  too  late.   So  this  is  a  terribly  important  thing, 
and  I  think  in  music  it's  essential,  and  I  don't  know  in  most 
photography — well,  different  degree  I'd  say  in  everything.   You 
anticipate  light,  you  anticipate  your  position  in  relation  to  the 
object.   You  don't  think  it  out,  you  feel  it  out.   If  I'm  looking  at 
you  [Harroun]  I  would  move  in  such  a  way  that  that  string  back  of 
you  would  be  out,  I  wouldn't  see  it.   If  I  can't  do  it,  then  I  have 
to  use  that  string,  so  I  see  it  another  way.   But  I  can't  say  to  the 
camera,  "Move  over  on  a  track  six  feet  and  go  click."  When  we  think 
of  all  the  things  photographed. .. 1 1 1 

Mariner  Photographs  of  Mars 


Adams:    I  have  a  whole  set  of  the  new  pictures  of  Mars  taken  on  the  last 

Mariner  flight,  and  they  are  wonderful  technological  achievements. 
A  good  friend  sent  them  to  me.   They're  not  really  restricted,  but 
it's  unusual  to  have  so  many.   And  you  see  in  them  one  of  the  great 
miracles  of  our  time,  scientifically  speaking.   The  pictures  have 
absolutely  no  aesthetic  quality  at  all  except  what  you  read  into 
them.   Now  if  I  were  a  painter,  I  could  take  some  of  the  designs  and 
spots  and  features  and  I  could  expand  them,  and  I  think  if  I  could 
be  there  in  space  I  could  have  made  a  better  composition.   But 
[laughter],  one,  I  can't  be  there  in  space  and,  two,  I'm  a  little  too 
far  away.   And  three,  these  don't  come  back  as  pictures,  they  come 
back  as  a  series  of  bits,  one  to  a  hundred  and  twenty-eight  numbers, 
and  are  recomposed  in  the  computer.   A  picture  is  made,  and  it's 
only  this  big  [gesture],  as  big  as  your  thumb,  and  scanned  with  a 
television  micro-scanner,  and — 

V.  Adams:  [In  the  background]   Oh,  don't  let  the  cat  out! 

Adams:    — every  time  the  probes  come  across  a  change  in  density  in  this 

image,  they  give  a  different  number.   That  relates  to  intensity  and 
comes  back  to  us  as  a  continuous  tape,  and  the  computer  is  set  up  to 
receive  and  interpret  the  signal. 

Now,  the  scanner  works  two  ways.   It  records  in  one  direction 
the  intensity  of  the  image  and,  returning,  it  is  sending  data  from 
a  number  of  other  scientific  instruments.   When  it  goes  one  way,  it's 
giving  the  image  information,  and  when  it  goes  back  it's  giving  other 
scientific  data  gain.   Hundreds  and  thousands  of  lines  are  involved. 
When  you  see  the  picture  it's  really  sharp,  this  big  [gesture],  but 


Adams : 

Adams : 

Adams : 

Adams : 

the  image  is  only  as  big  as  my  thumb  to  begin  with.   Well,  that  is 
not  art.   People  like,  oh,  [Gyorgy]  Kepes  or  [Laszlo]  Moholy-Nagy  or 
[Herbert]  Bayer  would  say,  "Ah,  this  begins  art;  this  is  the  new  art." 
Well,  it's  another  reality  you're  confronted  with,  but  it  doesn't 
represent  art  in  itself  because  you're  not  seeing  and  controlling  it. 
The  machine  is  doing  it,  and  I  don't  know  whether  we  can  always 
control  it!   [To  assistant,  Ted  Organ,  holding  framed  photograph]  That 
went  all  around  the  world,  God  knows  where,  and  I  took  the  tape  off 
and  it  was  perfectly  beautiful.   It  has  to  be  cleaned,  though. 

Travelling  exhibit? 

Mrs.  [Estes]  Kefauver. 
Embassies  program? 


Remember  Mrs.  Kefauver,  the  Art  in  the 

That  was  part  of  her  project.   That's  been  out  for  years.   And  I 
opened  one  box  today,  a  whole  box,  three  hundred  pounds  of  pictures 
and  frames. 

How  many  photographs  in  all? 

Forty  or  fifty.   I've  got  a  showl   I  just  unpacked  one  to  look  at  it. 
Most  beautifully  packed  stuff  you  ever  saw. 

"Monolith,  the  Face  of  Half  Dome" 

Adams:    Well,  anyway,  back  to  anticipation!   Now,  what  does  the  artist 

really  do?   I'd  go  into  the  mountains  as  a  kid,  and  I  had  unbounded 
physical  energy,  which  is  something  that  I  don't  have  now.   Of 
course,  nobody  realizes  when  they've  got  it,  you  just  look  back  and 
you  wonder!   You  know,  I  could  climb  two  peaks  a  day  with  a  fifty- 
pound  pack  and  still  want  to  photograph  in  the  evening.  [Laughter] 

But  I  think  the  element  of  anticipation  enters  into  this  picture. 
Something  tells  you  this  is  something  you  recognize,  and  you  begin  to 
see  the  picture — visualize  it — and  you  make  it.   In  the  early  days, 
in  the  early  twenties  when  I  was  out  in  the  Sierra  with  the  LeConte* 
family  (LeConte  was  a  marvelous  man,  a  very  intelligent  man,  a  really 
very  important  person  in  Sierra  history),  he  made  any  number  of 
photographs  on  five  by  seven  plates — but  hardly  any  that  contain  this 

*Joseph  N.  LeConte 


Adams:    particular  quality.   They're  immensely  valuable  as  records,  and 

they're  pleasant.  You  know,  you  look  at  them  and  they  bring  back 
scenes,  but  his  mind  wasn't  in  the  creative  direction  at  all. 

See,  compare  him  with  William  Henry  Jackson;  he  was  about  the 
same.   He  made  thousands  and  thousands  of  pictures.  Now,  another 
man  of  the  Jackson  period — 1870-1880 — called  T.H.  O'Sullivan  had 
another  level  of  vision,  and  his  pictures  are  always  superb  composi 
tions.   While  the  Jacksons  historically  were  tremendously  important, 
O'Sullivan  had  that  extra  dimension  of  feeling.   You  sense  it,  you 
see  it.   This  Half  Dome  picture*  of  mine  [on  wall]  was  my  first  really 
fine  photograph.   (I  was  ready  to  say,  "Well,  maybe  I  should  have 
stopped  and  gone  into  the  ready-made  clothing  business.")   Because 
this  was  my  first  real  visualization.   I  felt  the  monumental  quality, 
I  saw  it  intensely.   I  had  two  plates  with  me,  I  took  one  with  the 
standard  K2  filter,  and  I  began  to  realize,  why,  I'm  not  creating 
anything  of  what  I  feel,  because  I  know  the  shadow  on  the  cliff  is 
going  to  be  like  the  sky;  it's  going  to  be  gray.   It  will  be  an 
accurate  picture  of  Half  Dome,  but  it  won't  have  that  emotional 
quality  I  feel.   I  had  a  deep  red  filter  and  I  used  it  on  my  last 
plate.  And  that's  the  interpretive  result — that's  what  I  felt  at  the 

Literary  Titles  for  Photographs 

Adams:    And  this  might  be  the  time  to  bring  in  the  term  "equivalent"  that 
Alfred  Stieglitz  used,  because  he  made  the  bridge  between  the 
pictorialists  and  the  creative  people.   Very  difficult  I   Even  today, 
the  so-called  pictorialists  have  to  title  everything,  you  know: 
"Autumn  Tranquility ,"  or  "Mine  Eyes  Have  Seen  the  Glory,"  or  "The 
Smile  of  Spring,"  and  all  this  incredible  [laughter]  literary 
imitation.   And  Stieglitz  said,  "Of  course,  it's  all  right  to  say 
this  is  'Fifth  Avenue,  Winter;'  that's  fact."  Edward  Weston  would 
say,  "Cyprus  Number  Twenty-three,  Point  Lobos."  But  when  you  begin 
to  say,  oh,  "Time  to  be  Home,"  [laughter]  you  know,  that's  an  awful 

Well,  anyway,  Stieglitz  tried  to  break  way  from  that  with  the 
idea  of  saying,  "When  I  see  something  I  react  to  it  and  I  state  it, 
and  that's  the  equivalent  of  what  I  felt.   So,  therefore  I  call  my 
print  'equivalent,'  and  I  give  it  you  as  a  spectator,  and  you  get  it 
or  you  don't  get  it,  you  see,  but  there's  nothing  on  the  back  of  the 

*"Monolith,  the  Face  of  Half  Dome,"  Yosemite  Valley,  1927(7).   See 
also  p.  38  and  other  entries  as  indexed. 


Adams:    print  that  tells  you  what  you  should  get.   I  put  no  literary  title." 
That  was  a  very  important  thing,  and  I  instinctively  felt  that  way 
back  in  the  twenties.   I  rarely  if  ever  gave  a  title,  a  literary 
title.   I'd  give  a  definitive  title  like  "Rocks,  Bakers  Beach"  (if  I 
had  only  put  the  date  on  it,  Newhall  would  have  been  happy),  "Golden 
Gate  Park  Number  Sixteen,"  or  "Red  Slate  Peak,"  and  sometimes  "Red 
Slate  Peak,  Evening,"  another  might  be  "Red  Slate  Peak,  Morning." 
But  it  was  never  a  literary  thing.   This  is  terribly  important,  to 
avoid  this — I  call  it  literary;  maybe  that  isn't  the  right  term.   I 
think  from  the  very  beginning  I  was  relatively  free  of  that  because 
after  going  through  a  certain  stage  I  was  in,  in  photography  and 
music,  I  realized  how  shallow  it  was. 

Teiser:   It  not  only  is  literary,  or  romantic,  or  whatever,  but  it  also 

reflects  what  the  picture  is  like.   I  mean,  you  don't  find  that  kind 
of  title  on  a  picture  that  would  be  called  "Rock  and  Sea." 

Adams:    You're  right  there. 

Teiser:   I  don't  know  what  I'm  trying  to  say,  but — 

Adams:    The  person  who  would  accept  that  philosophy  of  a  title  could  not  do 
a  Weston-approach  picture,  you  see. 

Teiser:   That's  what  I'm  trying  to  say. 

Adams:    Yes.   I  remember  one  of  the  criticisms  that  got  me  really  worried  was 
James  Huneker,   the  great  music  writer,  critic  for  the  Globe  or  New 
York  Times  or  something,  but  boy,  was  he  floridl   Wowl   And  his  dis 
cussions  of  Chopin's  Sonatas  and  other  works  were  memorably  bad. 
Now,  the  sonata  is  usually  in  four  movements,  and  in  the  B-flat  minor 
Sonata  of  Chopin  you  have  the  "Marche  Funebre,"  which  is  the  Adagio, 
and  in  which  he  took  the  mode  of  the  funeral  march.  Now,  actually, 
it  should  be  played  with  the  utmost  stylization,  without  thinking  of 
a  funeral  cortege.   It's  been  interpreted  so  that  people  always 
relate  it  to  a  funeral,  but  it's  actually  a  theme,  not  a  theme  but  a 
structure.   Otherwise  you  have  just  a  funeral  march. 

The  last  movement  is  Presto  Furioso,  and  is  an  awfully  difficult 
thing,  with  terrific  surges  of  sound.   Huneker  ruins  it  for  millions 
of  people  by  saying,  "This  is  the  night  wind  rushing  over  the  graves." 
You  see,  it  immediately  cuts  off  a  whole  dimension  because  it's  so 
trite.   That's  part  of  the  philosophy  that  you  have  to  contend  with 
with  me.   I  avoid  this  aspect  of  triteness,  and  if  I  ever  slip, 
please,  you  know,  take  me  up  on  it  because  I  might  make  allusions 
sometimes  that  might  give  you  that  impression.   But  it's  very  easy  to 
get  emotional. 



Teiser:   Somebody  with  an  unpracticed  eye  would  look  at  Julia  Margaret 

Cameron's  portrait  of  Tennyson,  say,  and  then  look  at  a  turn-of-the- 
century  pictorialist  portrait  and  find  them  similar.   What's  the 

Adams:    She  was — I  don't  know  if  we  can  say  she  was  a  dichotomy,  but  she 

exhibited  a  dichotomy  in  the  sense  that  most  of  her  pictures  are  the 
most  sickly,  stylized,  posed,  Burne- Jones  compositions  of  wan, 
tubercular  maidens  in  white  drapes,  and — boy,  are  they  sentimental I 
I  mean,  they're  really  Victorian!   So  that's  part  of  Julia  Margaret 
Cameron.   And  they're  awfully  good  for  their  time.   The  next  step, 
and  the  important  thing,  is  when  she  got  these  great  people  to  come 
to  her  country  house.   (This  is  the  story  we  get.)   She  was 
apparently  a  very  well-to-do  woman,  and  had  the  equivalent  of  a  salon, 
and  the  people  who'd  come  to  visit  would  be  trapped  and  photographed  I 
But  what  she  did  was  so  intense,  and  the  magic  in  that  is  not  just 
putting  somebody  up  in  an  iron  brace  and  holding  them  for  fifty 
seconds  (the  poses  were  very  long) ,  but  developing  an  empathy  or  a 
sympathy  between  them.   So  when  you  see  the  picture  of  Carlisle, 
Herschel,  or  even  Tennyson,  there's  something  happening  there  that's 
far  beyond  the  ordinary  photographs  of  the  time — exposures  of  thirty 
seconds  or  more,  with  the  head  gripped  by  the  support.   Her  photo 
graphs  had  motion,  they  moved,  but  that  does  not  bother  us.   You 
are  aware  of  their  great  intensity. 

Stieglitz  did  the  same  thing.  He  took  portraits  of  [John] 
Marin,  and  he'd  believe  if  a  person  would  sit  relaxed  for  a  minute 
or  more,  something  could  come  through  that  would  never  appear  in  a 
snapshot.   That's  only  a  slice  of  time.   That's  another  thing  that 
Cartier-Bresson  did  superbly:   the  anticipation  of  the  body  movements 
and  facial  expression.   And  you  know  most  candid  photographs  are 
simply  horrible,  people  speaking  with  their  mouths  twisted  open  or 
showing  incomplete  action,  etc.   You  have  to  study  the  person,  and 
you  have  to  be  speaking  with  him  if  you're  doing  a  portrait  of  the 
speaker.   You  phrase  his  passage  or  sentence,  and  just  as  he's  ended 
the  phrase  or  sentence  you  may  photograph — because  at  that  moment  his 
face  may  have  a  moment  of  logical  repose. 

And  Cartier-Bresson,  and,  again,  Gene  [W.  Eugene]  Smith,  and 
many  other  people  in  that  field  have  that  sense.   The  person-subject 
does  come  through.   But  the  difference  between  Cameron  and  the  average 
professional  at  the  time  was  not  that  there  was  a  romantic  stage  set 
involved.   I  think  there  was  just  a  very  intense  personal  relation 
ship.   The  subject  and  photographer  knew  each  other,  they  were  friends, 
and  they  knew  what  she  was  trying  to  do.   There's  no  resistance,  and 
there's  no  passivity  in  evidence. 


Adams:    Minor  White  made  a  big  contribution  in  discussing  portraiture  in 
the  sense  that  it  really  was  a  stage  play,  a  dramatic  play.   One 
character  was  the  subject,  another  character  was  the  photographer,  a 
third  was  the  camera.   The  interplay  wasn't  just  between  you  and  me, 
but  it  was  between  you,  the  camera,  and  me.   And  sometimes  this  was 
very  vague  for  people  to  understand,  but  he  did  some  very  spectacular 
portraits  on  that  philosophy.  You're  really  getting  the  person  to 
feel  that  they're  part  of  the  camera.   That's  what  happens  when 
you're  doing  what's  called  "first  person  photography,"  when  they're 
looking  into  the  lens.  Most  photographs  you  see,  they're  not  looking 
at  the  lens,  they're  looking  over  there  or  at  the  photographer.   It's 
all  right  to  look  here  or  there,  but  if  there's  slight  indirectness 
the  effect  is  disturbing.   When  I  talk  to  you  and  look  this  way  at 
your  collar,  why,  it'd  drive  you  nuts  after  a  while.   You'd  think  I 
was,  you  know,  ashamed,  or  afraid,  or  weak.   You  see  the  difference? 
I  don't  know  whether  you  can  see  my  eyes,  but  now  you're  the  camera, 
and  I'm  looking  at  you.   Now  I'm  going  to  focus  on  the  tree  outside. 
Do  you  see  what  happens?  The  eyes  diverge. 

Teiser:   Yes. 

Adams:    It's  an  extremely  small  point,  but  it's  absolutely  a  dominant  factor 
in  portraiture  because  it  can  be  so  ugly  and  so  unhappy  to  have  a 
portrait  of  a  person  four  feet  from  the  camera  whose  eyes  are  focused 
on  a  hundred  feet  or  infinity.   I'm  talking  to  you,  and  if  I  had  my 
camera  over  here,  these  would  all  be  crazy  pictures,  because  it 
wouldn't  be  far  enough  away.   If  I  had  the  camera  over  there  [gesture], 
by  accident  I  might  get  something,  but  of  course,  I  wouldn't  know. 
So  that's  why  the  camera  itself,  with  its  single-lens  reflex  design, 
or  just  the  view-camera  ground  glass,  the  image  (not  the  finder  image) 
is  so  valid.   That's  what's  so  wonderful  about  the  new  Land  camera 
[the  SX70],  the  beautiful  accuracy  of  the  finder.   You're  seeing 
exactly  what  the  lens  sees. 

Teiser:   This  question  of  focus,  is  that  a  factor  in  the  [Yousuf]  Karsh 

Adams:    Karsh  is  never  very  satisfactory  when  he  has  a  first  person.  He  has 

the  ability  to  make  everybody  look  alike,  because  he  uses  a  very  con- 
,      sistent  lighting  without  much  regard  for  the  person.   I  mean  for  mood. 
The  lighting,  mechanically,  is  superb.   When  he  photographs  a  profile 
of  somebody  looking  away  from  the  camera  he  achieves  very  impressive 
results.   But  when  he  has  people  looking  almost  at  you,  then  his 
portraits  may  go  to  pieces,  because  they're  not  looking  at  the  lens, 
they're  looking  at  him,  or  looking  a  little  above,  or  to  the  side. 
The  Hemingway  picture  and  several  others,  the  subjects  are  looking 
above  his  head. 

He  has  a  habit — he  made  a  picture  of  me  at  a  stockholders 
meeting  at  Polaroid  several  years  ago,  demonstrating  a  new  big 


Adams:    format  that  hasn't  been  developed  yet.   He  was  going  to  take  a  picture 
of  me,  and  it  was  to  be  processed  right  there  in  the  camera,  and  then 
it  was  to  be  put  in  the  printing  press.   This  was  called  Project  India. 
It's  a  remarkable  thing.   It  means  that  you  will  take  a  picture,  wipe 
the  developer  residue  off,  put  it  on  an  offset  press,  and  you  print 
a  hundred  thousand  copies.   This  because  the  print  is  a  screen  plate. 

I  would  have  simply  said,  "All  right,  take  the  picture  but  we'll 
rehearse  it  if  you  want."  He  got  so  nervous  we  rehearsed  it  four  or 
five  times.   He'd  never  used  this  process  before,  you  know,  and  they 
had  everything  set:   they  gave  him  everything  he  needed.   He'd  come 
in  a  private  jet  from  Ottawa.   I  was  getting  awfully  tired,  because 
I  was  supposed  to  be  the  subject  and  should  look  "bright."  We  had 
worked  everything  out  and  had  everything  gauged  to  a  quarter  of  an 
inch.   But  when  Karsh  made  the  picture,  he'd  take  the  cable  release 
and  look  at  you,  and  then  he  would  do  this  [lifting  eyes],  and  so 
everybody  sort  of  does  this  "lifting  up."  And  it's  a  secret. 
Everybody  in  his  photographs  has  almost  the  same  "lifting"  expression. 
I  saw  him  do  it  with  several  people.   He  just  sort  of  does  that  and 
you  go  along  too.  [Laughter]   He  just  sort  of  transmits  a  lift. 

But  of  course,  his  lights  are  right  here:   they're  blinding. 
They  glare,  you  know.   Whew!  [Laughter]   And  then  after  he  did  this, 
here  are  these  two  thousand  people  out  in  front,  and  he's  just  white 
with  fear.   They  process  this  thing  and  out  comes  this  picture. 
"Well,  that's  pretty  good,  Karsh,"  Land  says.   "It's  not  your  fault. 
I  know  Adams  can  look  better  than  that.   Can't  we  do  it  over  again? 
Sure,  the  picture  came  out  fine  that  way,  but  let's  get  a  better  one." 
By  that  time  Karsh  was  just  ready  to  be  put  down  the  Disposall,  you 
know  (and  so  was  I).   So  finally  we  get  the  picture.   "Well,  that's 
pretty  good."  And  he  turns  it  over  to  his  assistant  who  washes  it 
off.   He  then  puts  it  on  this  little  press,  and  there's  a  print  for 
everyone  in  the  audience.  [Laughter]   Very  nice  offset  print.   But 
the  sense  of  portraiture  is  that  extraordinary  moment  of  understanding 
people.   And  a  good  professional  portraitist  is  pretty  much  of  a 
psychologist.   Are  you  a  pompous  businessman,  are  you  a  slightly  timid 
housewife,  are  you  a  dowager,  are  you....   And  I  have  failed  many 
times  with  all  these  types! 

I  remember  doing  a  portrait  of  Mrs.  [James]  Rolph,  the  governor's 
wife,  and  I  just  expected  to  do  her  head,  but,  no,  she  had  the 
inaugural  gown  on.   Well,  I  didn't  have  a  studio — never  had  a  studio 
in  my  life  with  equipment  to  handle  that,  because  somebody  standing 
against  a  simple  wall  in  an  inaugural  gown  is  one  of  the  silliest 
things  you  can  imagine.   The  light  was  all  wrong.   She  was  very 
nervous,  and  she  said,  "I  hope  you  know,  I'm  getting  a  little  fleshy, 
and  I  hope  you'll  do  a  proper  amount  of  retouching."  And  I  said, 
"Good  Lord,  I  never  retouch  anything."  So,  I  made  about  ten  pictures 
of  her,  and  they  were  perfectly  horrible.   They  were  so  God-awful, 


Adams:    but  I  sent  two  proofs  on.   She  thought  one  was  simply  lovely  and 

wanted  to  get  retouched  prints.   So  I  thought,  oh  hell,  I'd  send  it 
to  a  retoucher  and  let  somebody  do  it,  and  let  them  have  it,  because 
I  was  obligated  to  get  them  a  picture,  but  I  had  to  cut  the  thing 
down  to  kind  of  a  panel.   The  inaugural  gown,  you  know;  I  had  to 
print  the  thing  down.   If  you  do  a  thing  like  that  and  if  you  have 
a  studio  and  all  kinds  of  lights,  and  you  simulate  a  room  or  some 
thing,  you  might  produce  an  "effect."  But  imagine  somebody  in  an 
inaugural  gown  standing  in  front  of  this  fireplace  here,  not  in  a 
plush  San  Francisco  home — it  does  not  work!  [Laughter] 


Teiser:   Your  portraits  of  people  in  the  Japanese  relocation  camp  at  Manzanar 
have  a  great  immediacy. 

Adams:    Yes,  and  that's  a  very  interesting  thing.   This  doesn't  belong  in 
this  section,  but  I'd  better  tell  you  about  it. 

Dorothea  Lange  and  the  group*,  at  the  time  of  the  exodus,  when 
they  transported  the  Nisei  to  the  camps  (which  was  a  really  tragic 
time),  made  photographs.   They  had  a  very  grim  sociological  picture 
of  this  event,  which  was  a  very  grim  event,  no  question  about  that. 
Then  I  came  along  at  a  much  later  date.   I  was  up  in  Yosemite  and 
was  griping  that  I  couldn't  get  anything  to  do  in  the  army  or  navy, 
and  I  wasn't  going  to  just  be  a  sergeant  photographer.   At  first  I 
thought  I'd  have  the  darkroom  for  Steichen**,  and  then,  well,  they 
got  somebody  else.   I  was  just  too  old  to  do  this  and  just  too 
young  for  something  else,  and  I  was  really  griping. 

But  Ralph  Merritt,  who  was  a  great  man,  was  the  newly-appointed 
director  of  Manzanar,  and  he  came  to  see  us  in  Yosemite.   And  I  told 
him,  "I've  got  to  do  something.   After  all,  I'm  feeling  like — not  a 
traitor — but  I'm  perfectly  well,  and  I  have  a  lot  of  ability  along 
certain  lines,  and  I  can't  get  in  any  photographic  thing  to  do  in 
the  defense  picture.   They  don't  want  photographers."  Brett  Weston 
was  an  extremely  competent  photographer.   They  put  him  cleaning  film, 
which  is  closer  to  photography  than  most  photographers  were.   But  if 
I  were  a  young  man  trained  as  a  photographer  and  had  joined,  I'd 
have  been  made  a  cook. 

*working  under  the  War  Relocation  Authority. 

**Edward  Steichen  served  as  a  captain  in  the  navy  during  the  war, 

in  charge  of  combat  photography. 


Adams:    But  these  kids  who'd  graduated  from  high  school,  they  had  already 
enlisted  in  the  Signal  Corps,  so  they  were  already  designated. 
Maybe  they  ended  up  as  cooks,  too,  I  don't  know.   But  when  I  got  to 
Manzanar — oh,  yes,  let  me  go  back. 

Merritt  came  to  Yosemite  and  told  me,  "I've  got  a  great  project 
for  you.   Can't  pay  you  a  cent.   I  can  put  you  up.   I  can  get  you 
gas  mileage,  and  I  can  get  you  tires,  but  I  can't  pay  you  a  cent  of 
salary.   This  is  something  if  you  want  to  do  it;  we'll  do  everything 
we  can."  He  said,  "We  think  we  have  something  at  Manzanar — (Hello, 
Ernst!*  One  moment,  I'm  on  a  tape!) — we  think  we  have  something  at 
Manzanar.   We've  been  able  to  get  these  people  in  all  their 
destitute,  terrible  condition  to  build  a  new  life  for  themselves. 
A  whole  new  culture.   They're  leaving  here  with  a  very  good  feeling 
about  America.   They  know  the  exodus  was  a  fundamental  wrong,  but 
they  said,  'This  is  the  situation — make  the  best  of  it.'   If  you  can 
photograph  that,  it's  a  very  important  part  of  the  record." 

So  I  went  down  to  Manzanar  and  photographed,  oh,  hundreds  of 
people,  and  practically  everyone  was  positive.   They'd  rejected  the 
tragedy  because  they  couldn't  do  anything  about  it.   The  next  step 
was  a  positive  one.   And  I  had  them  smiling,  and  cheerful,  and  happy, 
And  the  photojournalists  raked  me  up  and  down  over  the  coals;  you 
have  no  idea.   "Why  do  you  have  these  people  smiling?  That's  all 
fake  I   They  were  oppressed,  prisoners."  And  so  I  tried  to  explain 
what  really  happened.   Because  of  this  adversity,  about  which  they 
could  do  nothing,  they  became  a  marvelous  group  of  positive,  forward- 
looking  people.   They  were  the  lighting  candles  type,  you  know,  and 
that's  the  way  you  see  them.  You  look  at  this  book**  and  you  see 
many  who  are  very  pleasant,  and  very  happy,  and  beautiful  kids,  and 
they  really  did  a  magnificent  job  of  establishing  a  life  out  of 
chaos.   And  I  think  that's  my  most  important  job.   Although, 
conventionally  I  should  have  shown  them  downtrodden  and  unhappy  and 
dirty — which  was  not  true! 

Teiser:   You  wrote  the  text,  too? 
Adams:    Yes. 

Teiser:   As  I  remember,  the  copy  I  saw  was  poorly  reproduced  because  of 
wartime  paper,  and — 

Adams:    Oh,  terribly.   Tom  Maloney,  U.S.  Camera,  just  thought  this  was  one 

*Ernst  Bacon,  composer,  who  had  just  arrived  to  spend  the  weekend. 
**Born  Free  and  Equal.   New  York:  U.S.  Camera,  1944. 


Adams:    of  the  greatest  ever.   He  was  so  glad  to  publish  this,  to 

recognize  these  people,  and  he  thought  American  citizens  would 
respond  and  it  would  sell.   Only  about  3  percent  of  the  bookstores 
and  news  stands  would  carry  it,  because  the  Japanese  were  the 
"enemy."  They  never  paid  any  attention  to  the  philosophy. 

I  must  have  had  twenty,  twenty-five  letters.   Some  were  very 
touching.   One  man  wrote  me.  He  said,  "Well,  I've  lost  three  sons 
in  this  war,  and  you're  glorifying  our  enemy."  And  I  had  to  write 
back  and  say,  "Those  in  my  book  are  American  citizens.   They  were 
born  in  this  country,  and  their  sons  who  were  in  the  army  would  come 
to  see  them."  But  their  hurt  was  so  great  that  there  was  no 
reasonable  solution  to  it.   It  was  really  quite  a  tragic  experience 
for  me. 

Adams : 

I  should  think. 

I  think  of  what's  going  on  in  the  South.   This  [George]  Wallace 
business,  and  the  fact  that  "if  you're  a  nigger,  you're  a  nigger 
forever,"  you  know.   And  if  he  was  a  "Jap,"  whether  or  not  he  was 
born  in  America,  he's  still  a  "Jap."  The  subtle  thing  was  that  the 
old  man  that  we  had  working  for  us  for  many  years  as  family  companion, 
gardener,  and  cook,  Harry,  was  an  Issei,  was  born  in  Japan.  He  was 
picked  up  on  the  second  day  of  the  war  because  he  was  a  Japanese 
national,  and  we  just  got  a  telephone  call  from  a  friend,  "Harry  Oye 
has  gone  to  intern  camp."  Well,  that's  expected  during  a  war.   He 
had  asthma.   The  government  treated  him  incredibly  well.   He  went  to 
hospital  after  hospital.   He  finally  went  to  Missoula,  which  was  the 

He  had  the  best  of  food  to  eat.   He  was 

He  would  write  us  letters  which  would  have 

best  for  his  asthma, 
completely  comfortable. 

the  censor's  stamp  on  it  in  red:   everything  is  fine.   He  comes  out 
to  us  after  the  war.   He  looks  fine.   He  was  really  extremely  well 
treated.   He  immediately  applies  for  citizenship  and  gets  it. 

So  Harry  Oye  at  the  age  of  seventy- some thing  becomes  a  United 
States  citizen,  treated  ten  times  better  than  the  United  States 
citizens  who  were  picked  up  by  General  DeWitt  and  moved  into  the 
relocation  camps.   And  that's  the  story  that  I  tried  to  tell!  We 
followed  the — what  do  you  call  it — Geneva  compact,  and  prisoners  of 
war  were  magnificently  treated.   And,  when  he  told  us  about  where 
he  went  and  the  doctors  he  had,  and  the  care — and  he  was  a  prisoner 
of  war  I  [Laughter]   The  American  citizen  who  just  happened  to  have  a 
Japanese  grandfather,  oh  no.   He  was  put  right  in  the  internment 
camp.   And  some  places  were  very  bad;  well,  not  very  bad,  but  dismal. 

Manzanar  had  a  beautiful  setting.   I  always  tried  to  bring  in 
the  environment  of  the  mountains.   I  knew  a  great  many  of  the  people 
would  look  up  at  the  Sierra  Nevada.   It  was  a  beautiful  place. 
Merritt  let  them  go  out  of  the  camp  and  collect  rocks  and  helped 
them  get  shrubs  and  build  a  Japanese  garden.   Just  absolutely 


Adams:    beautiful.   They  had  water  running  and  flowers  and  shrines.   I  can 
still  pick  out  some  remnants;  they're  still  there  in  the  desert. 

Teiser:   Did  you  ever  show  all  those  photographs? 

Adams:    They  were  shown  in  the  Museum  of  Modern  Art  and  were  very  severely 

Teiser:   At  the  time? 

Adams:    Yes.   People  criticized  the  Museum  and  criticized  me.   It  was  a  very 
difficult  thing.   And  even  some  of  my  liberal  friends  said,  "You 
made  a  mistake  that  time.   You  just  got  yourself  in  hot  water."  We 
were  talking  about  it.   They  said, '"It's  not  the  thing  to  do.   Japan 
is  the  enemy  and  you  shouldn't  have  done  it."  Nothing  could  be 
further  from  the  truth.   So  I  really  think  I  can  go  on  record  as 
saying  that  from  the  social  point  of  view  that's  the  most  important 
thing  I've  done  or  can  do,  as  far  as  I  know.   I  don't  know  what '11 
happen  tomorrow.   But  it  was  a  great  experience. 

Early  Days  and  Scientific  Concepts 

Adams:    Well,  I'd  like  to  go  back  to  earlier  days  and  people  that  I  knew. 

I'll  never  forget  the  doctor  for  us  out  there,  a  little  woman  called 
Dr.  [Ida  B.]  Cameron  who  lived  on  Twenty-fifth  Avenue  and  practiced 
homeopathy.   And  she  would  come  over  and  see  me  when  I  was  laid  up 
with  a  cold  or  something,  and  she'd  have  her  little  sugar  pills 
containing  one  billionth  of  a  gram  of  something.   Of  course  to  my 
uncle  who  was  an  allopath,  this  was  like  what's  going  on  in  Ireland 
with  Protestants  and  Catholics. 

Homeopathy  is  "like  cures  like."  Strangely  enough  they've 
found  out  lately  that  some  of  this  theory  may  work.   [Samuel] 
Hahnemann  I  believe  was  the  man  who  developed  it.   But  there  were 
many,  many  family  doctors  who  were  homeopaths,  and  would  give  these 
tiny  little  sugar  pills  in  a  solution  of  alcohol  with  an  incredibly 
small  amount  of  a  certain  chemical.   But  you  got  over  your  colds. 
And  they  never  would  extend  into  anything  serious,  appendicitis,  or 
surgery,  or  anything — no  kidding  on  that.   They  were  really  highly 
trained  doctors  with  this  specific  philosophy.   It  bordered  a  little 
bit  on  the  acceptance  of  acupuncture.   Nobody  could  quite  understand 
how  it  worked,  but  it's  probably  the  conviction  up  here  [in  the  head] 
that  does  it.   But  you  still  see  the  Hahnemann  Hospital  out  by  the 
Children's  Hospital,  and  Hahnemann  was  the  father  of  homeopathy.   It 
was  just  a  "school"  of  medicine.   [To  Ted  Organ]   (My  friend,  I  know 
that  you  are  busy  with  prints,  but  could  you  remind  Jim  that  I  am 


Adams:    kind  of  dry  and  I'm  becoming  very  eloquent,  and  this  tape  is  very 
important.   A  little  vodka,  a  little  ice,  and  a  lot  of  water.) 

Dr.  Cameron  had  a  great  deal  to  do.   She  was  the  one  we  would 
count  on,  and  she  was  a  very  intelligent  woman.   So  I  had  right  in 
the  immediate  neighborhood  Miss  Marie  Butler,  my  piano  teacher,  and 
Dr.  Cameron  (I  forget  her  first  name,  it  will  come  to  me). 

Then  a  family,  Mr.  and  Mrs.  Sattler,  came  next  door  and  built  a 
house  and  cut  out  our  view.   My  father  when  he  saw  the  plans  said, 
"Can't  you  arrange  this  some  way  so  you  won't  kill  our  view?"  And, 
by  gosh,  they  did:   my  father,  who  was  very  broke,  got  a  bill  for 
twelve  thousand  dollars.  A  demand.   It  was  their  court  order  because 
they  were  going  to  build.   Now,  there's  a  strange  thing  about  the 
law.   They  were  on  a  very  steep  hill.   It  would  have  cost  twelve 
thousand  dollars  to  build  the  retaining  wall,  and  we  didn't  have 

My  father  went  to  a  lawyer  and  he  said,  "What  do  I  do?"  He 
said,  "How  far  is  your  house  from  the  property  line?"  He  said, 
"Fourteen  feet."  "Twelve  feet  is  the  limit.   They  have  to  hold  up 
the  property."  That  two  feet  saved  us.  [Laughter]   So  he  told  Mr. 
Sattler,  "I'm  sorry,  I  don't  have  the  money  and  I  was  very  worried, 
but  I  consulted  my  lawyer  and  the  lawyer  says  you're  beyond  twelve 
feet."  He  said,  "Well,  I  tried,  but  I'll  hold  it  up.   But,"  he  said, 
"maybe  we  can  get  some  dirt  from  your  property."  My  father  said, 
"Oh,  yes."  And  we  got  along  fine.   So  everything  worked  very  well. 

Teiser:   But  it  did  cut  off  your  view? 

Adams:    Well,  it  cut  off  a  good  part  of  it,  but  still  he  moved  back  enough, 
you  see,  which  is  more  than  most  people  would  do. 

The  [Matthew  A.]  Littles  built  on  finally  in  later  years,  and 
cut  it  all  off.   Their  name  was  Sattler,  and  she  was  a  Christian 
Science  practitioner,  and  she  tried  to  influence  me  in  Christian 
Science.   Really,  you  talk  about  missionary  work  I   There  was  always 
something  strange  about  it,  because  I  was  interested  in  astronomy 
(through  my  father)  and  science  generally,  and  then  to  be  told  some 
thing  totally  unscientific  was  a  surprise.   I  began  to  develop  a 
resistance,  and  argue — I  remember  this  as  my  first  experience  of 
being  confronted  with  a  very  smart,  very  good  mind,  but  it  was  on  a 
very  difficult  track  for  anyone  like  me  to  comprehend.   But  the 
words  "science"  and  "Christian,"  and  "there  is  no  such  thing  as  evil"- 
well,  that  was  an  offense  to  my  kind  of  thinking  in  which  two  times 
two  does  make  four.   I  can  remember  that  we  had  poison  oak.   "Poison 
oak  is  a  beautiful  plant;  it  will  not  affect  you."  Well,  I  was 
tremendously  and  sadistically  impressed  one  day  when  this  woman  came 
down  with  the  worst  case  of  poison  oak  I'd  ever  seen.   And  when  I 
asked  her  about  it,  she  just  said,  "Well,  I  just  let  evil  triumph." 


Adams:    This  was  an  interesting  little  phase,  one  introduction  to  what  I 
call  reason  and  anti-reason.   That  was  very  important  at  the 
beginning,  that  I  had  something  to  talk  about  with  these  people. 

Then  I  met,  later  on,  Orage,  A.R.  [Alfred  Richard]  Or age,  who 
was  a  disciple  of  [Georges  Ivanovich]  Gurdjieff.   Gurdjieff  was  a 
great  mystical  philosopher  along  with  [Petr  Dem'ianovich]  Ouspensky. 
I  don't  know  whether  he  was  related  to  the  Gestalt  theory  or  not. 
And  Orage  was  an  extremely  clever,  smart  man,  and  a  good  friend. 
But  he  was  absolutely  scientific,  you  see.   There  was  nothing  phony 
about  him;  except  that  sometimes  he'd  make  some  assumptions  we'd  have 
reason  to  discuss. 

The  1915  Fair 

Adams:    And  then  another  very  rewarding  thing  that  comes  back  to  me:   the 

1915  Fair  [the  Panama  Pacific  International  Exposition].  My  father 
was  very  unorthodox.   He  took  me  completely  out  of  school  and 
bought  me  a  season  ticket.   I  went  practically  every  day  to  the  Fair, 
and  I  went  through  practically  every  bit  of  it.   They  even  let  me 
demonstrate  Dalton  adding  machines. 

They  had — I  didn't  realize  it  at  the  time — one  of  the  greatest, 
most  significant  shows  of  modern  art,  contemporary  art,  cubism  and 
so  on,  in  the  Palace  of  Fine  Arts.   A  phenomenal  show.   It's  been 
written  up  lately.   I  do  not  think  people  realized  what  they  had  in 
San  Francisco  at  that  time.   Here  were  all  kinds  of  geometric 
structures,  see,  and  I  remember  talking  to  a  man,  but  I  didn't 
realize  who  he  was  at  the  time — but  he  was  one  of  the  great  museum 
people  in  the  East;  I  forget  his  name.   But  there  were  several 
people  around,  and  I  said,  "I  don't  understand."  I  was  kind  of  mild, 
you  know.  He  said,  "What  is  it  that  bothers  you?"  I  said,  "There 
are  really  no  straight  lines  in  nature."   (A  well-known  sculptor  had 
made  a  gutter-like  figuration.)   Several  of  the  people  standing 
there  looked  at  me — brat,  you  know,  talking  about  straight  lines  in 
nature.   Well,  he  could  not  give  any  answer  to  it .   I'll  never  forget 
this  awful  ten  minutes  in  which  he  said,  "I  can't  answer  you  on  that— 
there  are  straight  lines  in  nature,  in  some  cases."  "Yes,  I  know, 
there  are  some  straight  lines  in  crystals,  and  fracture  planes,  but 
99.9  percent  of  nature  is  a  fluid  thing,  which  isn't  the  least  bit 
concerned  with  a  straight  line.   There  isn't  a  straight  line  on  the 
body."  Of  course  I  was  embarrassing  him  because  of  this  audience. 

Well,  I  went  over  there  about  two  weeks  later  and  he  was  there, 
and  he  said,  "My  boy,  you  put  me  on  a  very  bad  spot,  and  I've  been 
doing  a  lot  of  thinking.   I  think  I  could  continue  the  argument,  but 


Adams:    thank  you  for  putting  me  on  that  spot."  I'll  never  forget  that. 

"Because,"  he  said,  "you  know,  you  did  bring  up  something  about  the 
difference  between  nature  and  the  intellect,"  and  that  the  mind  sees 
straight  lines,  like  [Percival]  Lowell  and  [Giovanni  V.]  Schiaperelli 
saw  straight  lines  on  Mars,  the  "canals,"  which  was  a  visual  phenomenon 
of  disconnected  points. 

But  I  can  remember  these  things,  and  reacting  very  strongly  to 
many  of  the  paintings,  and  reacting  very  badly  to  the  sculpture.   The 
paintings  were  abstract;  you  could  do  what  you  wanted  with  them  in 
your  mind.   But  in  sculpture  you  had  a  tangible  thing,  like  a  rock  or 
a  tree.   I  had  a  terrible  time  with  some  of  the  sculpture. 

Teiser:   Have  you  looked  at  pictures  of  any  of  that  art  recently? 
Adams:    Yes.   I  often  recognize  a  lot  of  the  things  I  saw. 
Teiser:   Was  there  a  good  deal  of  Rodin  there? 

Adams:    Yes,  but  not  in  this  show — all  this  was  avant-garde  at  that  time, 

early  Picassos — oh,  I  can't  remember  the  names.   They'll  come  to  me, 
but  this  was  largely  the  Dadaist  group,  you  see. 

Teiser:   The  sculpture  of  the  Fair  in  general... 

Adams:    Oh,  the  sculpture  of  the  Fair  was  God-awful.   Who  was  the  man  who 
did  the  firemen  saving  the  child  down  near  the  cathedral  in  North 
Beach?*  Oh,  the  Fair  itself  was  just  filled  with  the  most  God-awful, 
bad,  romantic  and  arid  sculpture  imaginable.   "End  of  the  Trail," 
Stella — boy,  was  that  daringl   That  was  this  nude — a  terrible 
painting,  but  the  most  popular.   But  the  avant-garde  thought  this 
was  a  very  special  show,  one  of  the  most  significant  shows  ever  put 
together  in  America. 

Teiser:   The  painting,  however,  what  sort  of  painting  was  it? 
Adams:    Oh,  now  you've  got  me  on  names  again — Picabia,  Picasso — 
Harroun:   "Nude  Descending  Staircase"? 

Adams:    Duchamp,  yes,  he  was  in  that  group,  I  am  sure.   That  was  my  first 
exposure  to  the  nonliteral  contemporary  art,  and  it  made  a  great 

[End  Tape  1,  Side  2] 

*Haig  Patigian. 


[While  the  recording  tape  reel  was  being  changed,  Mr.  Adams  mentioned 
his  admiration  for  his  house  guest,  the  pianist  Ernst  Bacon.] 

[Begin  Tape  2,  Side  1] 

Adams:    The  only  person  who  compared  with  Ernst  Bacon  who  ever  played  here 
was  Victor  Babin — of  Vronsky  and  Babin,  duo-pianists — he  just  died, 
you  know,  two  months  ago — old  friends.   Last  time  they  were  here  and 
spent  the  weekend,  we  had  some  vodkas  and  reminisced  and  he  played 
Scriabin  and  you  never  had  such  an  experience!   A  beautiful  pianist. 
I've  been  very  fortunate  in  my  friends. 

Now,  let's  see.   Where  was  I? 
Teiser:   You  were  telling  about  the  1915  Fair. 

Adams:    The  1915  Fair.   Well,  I  saw  a  great  many  things.   The  organ  in  the 
Festival  Hall  is  the  organ  that  is  now  in  the  auditorium  in  San 
Francisco.   It  was  a  very  good  one.   They've  improved  it,  but  it  had 
then  great  power.   Being  interested  deeply  in  music,  every  noon  I 
went  to  an  organ  recital.   And  then  I  had  some  friends  who  managed 
to  let  me  play  it  a  little.   Then  I  studied  organ  after  that. 

But  a  very  interesting  story.   You've  heard  of  Tom  Mooney  and 
the  bombing?*  Well,  Rena  Mooney  was  quite  a  fine  musician.  I  met 
her  at  the  time.   She  wanted  me  to  be  her  pupil.   She  was  very 
aggressive,  but  I  didn't  quite — I  didn't  think  she  was  my  cup  of  tea, 
although  I  liked  her  personally.   Tom  Mooney  worked  for  the  Underwood 
Typewriter  Company  as  a  technician.   They  had,  I  guess,  one  of  the 
greatest  illusions  of  its  time.   The  audience  would  look  onto  the 
stage.   There  would  be  old  people  writing  with  quills.   It  would 
gradually  and  beautifully  fade  into  people  with  pens  in  their 
bookkeeping  shop  in  London.   And  then  the  picture  would  gradually 
fade  into  1890,  1900,  ladies  working  old  typewriters.   And  then  it 
would  gradually  fade  into  a  new  place.   Well,  this  illusion  just 
fooled  everybody.   It  was  fantastic.   He  showed  me  how  it  was  done 
one  time.   It  was  a  great  mirror  system  and  revolving  stage.   Very 
advanced.   And  the  lights  would  go  down  and  the  stage  would  move,  and 
the  next  one  would  come  in  and  this  one  would  be  illuminated  and 
picked  up  in  the  mirrors.   The  mirror  was  the  biggest  glass  I'd  ever 

We  were  very  good  friends.  And  imagine  the  shock  one  morning, 
seeing  in  the  paper  that  Thomas  Mooney  was  accused  of  the  bombing, 
the  Preparedness  Day  bombing.   And  there  was  his  picture.   This  was 
the  guy  I'd  known  during  the  Fair,  and  a  very  kind,  gentle  man. 

*The  Preparedness  Day  parade  bombing,  22  July  1916. 


Adams:    Well,  they  were  rather  politically  radical,  but  they  didn't  think 

I  was  old  enough  to  understand  this,  so  they  didn't  talk  much.   But 
this  was  a  trauma.   To  suddenly  see,  for  the  first  time  in  my  life, 
a  picture  on  the  front  page  of  the  paper,  of  a  guy  that  was  accused 
of  perpetrating  that  bomb  outrage — it  was  terrible — a  man  that  I'd 
had  a  close  association  with  as  a  good  friend  in  my  rounds  of  the 
Fair.   So  that  was  my  first  brush  with  "reality." 

Teiser:   Do  you  remember  the  photography  that  was  around  the  Fair? 

Adams:    The  Camera  Club  show  was  so  dreadful  I  looked  at  part  of  it  and  just 
left,  and  the  photography  of  the  Fair,  the  commercial  photography, 
was,  of  course,  competent  but  very  bad — all  their  guide  books  and 
things — terrible  stuff.   The  whole  Fair  was  the  most  amazing  thing. 

The  Tower  of  Jewels  was  a  geegaw,  the  biggest  curio  ever  made. 
And  yet  there  were  some  things  that  were  absolutely  beautiful.   Of 
course  the  whole  thing  was  a  totally  traditional  plan.  You  had  your 
Venetian  towers,  you  had  the  Alhambra  Spanish  courts,  and  the 
architects  really  went  all  out. 

The  most  impressive  thing  (the  most  curious  thing  I  guess  I  can 
think  of)  was  that  they  had  this  great  locomotive  out  on  a  pier, 
which  would  generate  steam — phsssh! — running  on,  just  rotating  wheels. 
It  would  put  up  these  tremendous  clouds  of  steam  on  which  colored 
lights  would  play,  and  then  fireworks  were  released  back  of  it.   Well, 
the  thing  was  a  fantastic  spectacle.   I  mean,  Dufy  never  painted  any 
thing  like  that! 

And  then  we  knew  [Bernard]  Maybeck,  and  of  course  he  did  the 
Palace  of  Fine  Arts,  and  when  that  was  lit  up  at  the  time  of  the 
Fair,  it  was  an  extraordinary  experience.   A  wonderful  thing.  At 
night  it  was  a  real  fairyland  (I  mean  if  you  want  to  use  that  corny 
term  now).   It  was  fantastic.   And  when  they  didn't  take  it  down 
along  with  the  other  buildings,  Maybeck  was  disturbed.   He  said, 
"This  is  not  a  permanent  building  I   This  is  a  fantasy I   This  is 
supposed  to  go!"  Oh,  it  was  a  beautiful  building.   To  let  it  stand 
after  the  Fair  practically  broke  his  heart,  because  in  the  cold 
light  of  day,  with  the  city  around  it — you  know,  it  was  a  bit  crazy. 
And  then  a  few  years  ago  some  guy  spent  six  million  dollars  repro 
ducing  it!  Maybeck  has  been  rotating  in  his  grave,  I  am  sure. 

This  is  an  interesting  thing.   I  wrote  a  very  strong  letter  to 
this  man  and  never  got  an  answer.   I  said,  "You're  spending  six 
million  dollars  to  perpetuate  something  which  the  architect  was 
broken-hearted  wasn't  terminated  at  the  end  of  the  Fair.   The  Fair 
was  a  true  Renaissance  concept.  Ninety  percent  of  the  Renaissance 
was  not  permanent.   It  was  festivals,  sets  made,  performances.   What's 


Adams:    come  down  from  the  Renaissance  is  mostly  a  lot  of  old  monuments  and 

great  style,  but  retaining  that  structure  wasn't  in  the  spirit  of  the 
Renaissance.   It  was  a  very  alive,  transitory  thing.   I  said,  "If 
you'd  just  taken  that  money  and  turned  it  over  for  contemporary  art 
and  architecture,  it  would  have  been  an  infinitely  greater  balance." 
But  it's  a  monument.   That  guy  put  six  million  dollars  into 
duplicating  that  building.   Can  you  imagine?   It  was  originally  built, 
very  well  done,  with  a  steel  frame.   Then  it  was  faced  with  fake 
travertine.   I  forget  the  name  of  the  man  who  developed  this,  but  he 
could  imitate  any  kind  of  marble  or  travertine  that  you  wanted  by 
mixing  clay,  plaster,  and  color,  and  get  the  illusion — like  Mrs. 
Spencer*  in  Yosemite  did  a  stylized  fifteenth  century  glass  window 
she  made  of  parchment.   And  people  knew  it  was  a  derivation  from 
Sainte-Chapelle;  that  was  her  great  theme  when  she  was  in  Europe. 
They  looked  at  it  and  they  were  astounded.   It  is  a  stained  glass 
window,  but  it  isn't  like  anything  that's  ever  been  done;  it's  all 
parchment.   But  when  you  look  at  it  with  the  lights  behind  it,  you 
can't  believe  that  you're  not  looking  at  a  perfectly  gorgeous, 
luminous  window.   That  goes  up  every  Christmas,  and  comes  down 
afterwards,  and  nobody  wants  to  perpetuate  it  through  the  year. 

Religious  Concepts  and  Cemeteries 

Teiser:   Going  back  to  your  immediate  surroundings  when  you  were  a  youngster — 
you  were  naming  the  people  who  influenced  you,  and  people  you  had 
known.   You  took  Greek  lessons? 

Adams:    I  took  Greek  lessons  from  a  Dr.  Harriott,  who  I  think  was  Canadian. 
He  was  a  minister,  a  total  fundamentalist.   And  he  was  a  terribly 
good  Greek  teacher  in  the  imitative  sense.   I  mean  he'd  make  you 
write,  go  all  through  your  verbs  and  nouns.   And  his  pronunciation 
was,  of  course,  English.   I  don't  think  anyone  knows  how  to  pronounce 
the  original  Greek,  but  this  was  the  accepted  English  pronunciation. 
I  read  a  lot.   I  read  Homer,  the  others,  Pindar,  etc.,  and  I  could 
read  it,  by  gosh.   But  he  said,  "What  do  you  do?  What  literature  do 
you  read?"  He  was  a  pompous  man,  very  stuffy.   His  wife  was  a 
little  white  woman,  scared  to  death  of  him.   He  had  a  bristling 
beard.   He  said,  "What  do  you  do?  What  is  your  favorite  literature?" 
I  said,  "Well,  I  have  to  confess,  poetry.   I  just  love  Shelley." 
"Oh — heathen]"  He  said,  "You  should  be  concentrating  on  the  word  of 
God.   Do  you  read  the  Bible?"   "No,  but  we  do  have  a  family  Bible." 
(We  had  the  births  and  deaths  on  the  front  page.) 

*Jeanette  Dyer  (Mrs.  Eldridge  T.)  Spencer. 


Adams:    Well,  by  that  time  he  was  just  ready  to  pop  a  cork,  you  know.  And  I 
said,  "Well,  you  know,  we're  not  a  very  religious  family.  We're 
scientists.  My  father's  interested  in  science,  and  we  can't  believe 
this  fundamental — "  "Oh,"  he  said,  "this  is  heresy'.   The  world 
began  4004  B.C.  and,"  he  said,  "every  God-fearing  person  must 
accept  that.   This  is  the  truth."  And  I  said,  "I  can't — "  Then, 
"Dr.  Harriott,  how  did  all  these  fossils  get  in  the  rocks?  You  know, 
four  thousand  years  is  not — "  "Oh,"  he  said,  "my  dear  misguided  boy, 
God  put  them  in  there  to  tempt  our  faith."  [Laughter]   And  from  that 
time  on,  my  whole  concept  of  traditional  fundamentalist  religion 
held  to  a  very  low  level.   I  actually  heard  that  mythical  "fact" 
stated  with  total  conviction.   And  I  can  imagine  an  old  man  with  a 
beard,  with  the  kindest  intention,  running  around  in  millions  and 
billions  of  rocks  and  poking  in  fossils,  to  tempt  the  faith  of  some 
creature  he  invented  in  the  very  last  varnish  layer  of  the  historic 
column.  [Laughter]   But  that  actually  happened  to  me!   These  people 
are  right  around  here  today  who  would  say  the  same  thing. 

Oh,  another  problem  I  had  was  with  a  man  who  was  a  physicist, 
and  he  got  talking  about  what  church  I  belonged  to,  and  I  said,  "I 
don't  go  to  church."  He  said,  "I  don't  understand  it,"  and  I  said, 
"Well,  are  you  a  Catholic?"  He  said,  "Oh,  I'm  a  devout  Baptist.   I 
actually  believe  in  the  Bible."   I  said,  "Look,  you're  a  physicist 
and  a  mathematician,  and  you  can't  really  believe  certain  things, 
can  you?"   I  forget  his  exact  words.   (This  came  along  later.)  He 
said,  "My  dear  boy,  you  don't  understand.   Faith  is  one  thing,  and 
knowledge  is  another."  And  you  know  that  was  a  great  shock  that 
somebody  could  have  all  the  knowledge  in  the  world  and  yet  have  a 
faith  that  denied  it.   Those  things  are  perhaps  formative  things  in 
one's  life. 

This  is  probably  a  good  time  to  say  that  my  very  dear  friend 
Dr.  [Edwin  H.]  Land  of  Polaroid — really,  a  great  genius  in  science 
and  technology  today,  and  his  heart  is  as  big  as  his  mind — he  was 
talking  about  problems,  solutions,  and  human  directions;  we  all  have 
human  and  political  problems.   And  he  said,  "The  key  to  the  whole 
thing  is  a  clinical  approach  and  ability  in  'management1  of  any 
situation."   In  other  words,  if  something  happens,  if  something  hits 
you,  you  should  immediately  become  "clinical."  Don't  let  your 
emotions  take  the  control  from  you.   Just  analyze  what's  happening, 
and  then  when  you  figure  out  what's  happening,  then  you  may  begin  to 
manage  it.   You  don't  deny  it,  you  don't  condemn  it,  you  just  say, 
"Here's  the  situation,  and  one  parameter  is  here  and  another  there," 
and  you  solve  it.   The  instant  you  become  emotional,  resentful,  or 
over-respond — you  have  lost. 

Jim  Taylor:   It's  getting  time  for  dinner. 

Adams:    All  right.   Tell  them  to  hold  it.  We're  doing  fine. 


Teiser:   We'll  stop  whenever  you  like. 

Adams:    Now,  a  very  interesting  thing  that  really  goes  back  to  the  twenties. 
I'm  not  a  victim  of  necrophilia  or  anything  to  do  with  death. 
Cemeteries  have  two  qualities.   One  is  human  in  the  sense  that  one 
human  being  is  putting  up  some  kind  of  a  stone  which  relates  to 
another  human  being.   In  many  cases  on  that  stone  are  carvings, 
sentiments,  indications,  which  is  profoundly  human  and  is,  in  a 
sense,  folk  art.   So  I've  always  had  an  interest  in  such  things. 
I've  got  a  tremendous  collection  of  cemetery  stone  photographs.   Dr. 
Land  has  said,  "I  see  so  many  pictures  of  tombstones.  You  come  here, 
I  give  you  a  new  film  to  try,  and  you  go  to  work  in  Laurel  Hill 
Cemetery!"  I  say,  "Yes,  because  the  stones  are  static.   Some  of  them 
are  very  beautiful  and  I  can  work  thoughtfully  on  them." 

This  is  a  theme  that  affected  me  and  affects  a  great  many 
photographers.   The  early  gravestone  carvings  and  sentiments  are  a 
link — the  closest  link  I  know — to  the  past.   And  you  get  that 
assurance  in  New  England  in  the  old  graveyards;  you  really  sense  a 
contact  with  past  humanity,  and  the  stones  photograph  beautifully. 

I  have  one  negative  here  that  I've  been  working  on  for  years. 
It  was  a  little  thing  from  Laurel  Hill  Cemetery.   It's  gone;  it's 
part  of  Bay  breakwater  now.   It's  just  a  sphere,  a  little  spirit,  a 
little  angel  leaving,  floating  off.   Probably  when  it  was  made  it 
might  have  been  corny,  but  it  was  beautiful  with  age  and  erosion. 
I'm  going  to  make  a  print  of  that  if  it's  the  last  thing  I  do,  because 
it's  one  of  the  most  beautiful,  poignant  images,  and  it  relates  so 
wonderfully  to  so  many  themes.   Here  is  the  earth,  the  symbol  of  the 
crescent,  and  the  little  spirit  leaving  it. 

So  to  make  these  junctions  between  expression,  personal  feeling, 
history,  we  can  then  send  tentacles  out  to  other  people  through  art. 
The  human  interpretation  of  history  is  just  not  dates  and  facts  but, 
as  my  friend  Newhall  says,  "We  historians  don't  think  of  the  past  or 
present,  we  think  of  a  continuous  line."  And  now  a  lot  of  people 
want  to  cut  life  into  periods — everyone  tries  to  compartment ize  it: 
contemporary  art,  new  sculpture,  pop  art  move  in — in  all  such 
compartments.   Any  good  art  historian  goes  around  a  great  ellipse, 
you  see,  right  back  to  the  pre-Egyptians.   And  we  just  came  across 
some  pictures  today  of  some  Egyptian  things  in  the  Boston  Museum. 
And  you  look  at  these  pictures,  and  they  have  qualities  which  a  lot 
of  the  contemporary  artists  are  really  trying  to  capture  in  the  new 

So  my  interest  in  cemeteries  is  not  anything  to  do  with  death, 
or  even  the  fact  that  the  art  is  "art."  It's  a  kind  of  a  folk  art, 
but  it  has  a  tremendous  human  significance.   It's  just  a  theme  which 
because  I  suppose  it  stays  quiet  [laughter]  I  like.   So  I  have  a  very 


Adams:    complete  set  of  Laurel  Hill  Cemetery  pictures  in  the  late  twenties 
and  thirties.   That  little  figure — see  the  figure  on  the  urn? — that 
was  the  most  beautiful  gravestone  there,  and  I  went  over  and  I 
talked  to  the  guard  one  day  and  I  said,  "Where's  that  going?"  And 
he  said,  "Oh,  that's  going  down  to  the  breakwater."   I  said,  "I'd 
like  that.   Tell  me  how  I  can  buy  it,  anything;  I  want  it."  He 
said,  "Ahhh!   Scram!!"  But  I  went  back  the  next  morning  and  found 
it  had  been  broken  up,  and  I  pinched  just  this  little  part,  which  I 
think  remains  a  perfectly  beautiful  thing. 

Now  the  contemporary  gravestone  is  a  horrible  thing.   But  these 
early  ones  were  really  carved.   There's  one  stone  in  Utah,  I  think 
Glendale,  that  was  done  in  1890-something  by  an  itinerant  sculptor 
who  went  around  the  country  when  people  were  trying  to  carve 
primitive  stones.   This  one  could  have  been  done  in  the  middle 
thirties;  it  relates  to  contemporary  sculpture.   It's  one  of  the 
most  beautiful  things  I've  ever  seen.   I  just  hope  it  hasn't  been 
vandalized.   I  have  several  pictures  of  it. 

Teiser:   Your  photographs  of  the  sculptures  in  Sutro  Heights — 
Adams:    Yes,  I've  a  series  of  those. 
Teiser:   Are  they — 

Adams:    Well,  you  see.   The  whole  Sutro  thing  was  a  great  colossus,  a 
benign  fake.   This  man  [Adolph  Sutro]  was  very  wealthy,  and  he 
bought  these  things  made  of  cast  cemental  imitations  of  classic 
sculpture.   They  still  had  their  own  nostalgic  value.   The  one  I 
have  of  a  woman  classically  draped  and  looking  down  on  Seal  Rocks 
is  still  one  of  my  best  pictures.   From  the  point  of  view  of  art, 
it's  an  atrocity,  you  know,  but  here  again  is  the  "nostalgia"  thing 
(a  bad  use  of  the  term) .   What  that  meant  in  history  was  related  to 
the  concept  of  the  benign  ruin.   Sutro  really  wanted  to  accomplish 
something,  and  could  buy  anything  he  wanted.   Sutro  Baths,  you  know, 
was  his  private  indulgence.  So  with  the  idea  that  "classic"  was 
the  "in"  thing  at  that  time,  he  ringed  this  parapet  with  these 
statues.   I  remember  them  when  they  were  complete.  I  wish  to 
goodness  that  I  had  been  able  to  photograph  them  all.  They  were 
of  cast  cement,  and  they  didn't  stand  the  salt  air  erosion,  so 
they  weathered  within  relatively  few  years  and  gradually  went  to 
pieces.  But  I  have  the  torch  bearer,  a  woman,  and  I  had  another 
one  that  was  burned  up  in  the  fire  in  Yosemite  (unfortunately  it 
was  the  best  one) . 


Aesthetics  and  Ecology 

Adams:    All  those  things  are  so  poignant  because  they  meant  so  much 

emotionally  to  me,  as  I  was  at  the  time  exploring  several  parameters 
of  thinking  and  doing — into  society,  into  history,  aesthetics,  and 
nature.   And  the  whole  thing  makes  a  complex,  abundant,  and  eventful 
pattern.   So  it's  awfully  hard  for  me  to  point  out  any  one  thing,  you 
see,  and  say,  "This  is  important,"  because  it's  sure  to  tie  in  to 
something  else.   I  often  went  down  to  Bakers  Beach.   A  beautiful  fog 
would  be  coming  in,  and  great  waves — but  you  talk  about  pollution! 
The  sewer  for  the  whole  Western  Addition  dumped  off  the  beach,  so 
you  had  to  watch  your  step.  Nobody  ever  thought  anything  about  it. 
That  didn't  affect  it  any;  the  beach  was  still  beautiful.   I  have  a 
picture  of  my  mother  and  father  and  me  about  this  big  [gesture]  (I 
don't  know  who  took  it)  sitting  on  the  platform  of  the  old  lifesaving 
station  at  Bakers  Beach,  and  you  know,  such  an  image  brings  you  back 
to  the  particular  qualities  of  the  world  as  it  was  at  the  time  when 
it  meant  so  many  things  to  you. 

If  the  beach  was  in  that  condition  today  it  would  be  roped  off 
and  covered  with  warning  signs!   You  wouldn't  come  within  a  quarter 
of  a  mile  of  it  today.   But  I  lived!   I  mean  this  is  a  very  important 
thing.   The  average  human  society  lives  in  a  biological  slum — India, 
for  instance,  is  a  prime  example — and  up  until  just  recently,  a  half 
century  ago,  we  really  lived  in  filth.   We  had  garbage  all  over.   We 
didn't  worry  about  anything.   You'd  go  into  the  Sierra  on  a  camping 
trip,  and  there  were  so  few  people  you  knew  the  water  was  clear,  but 
even  back  in  1912,  I  think,   William  Colby  got  typhoid  fever  from 
some  high  mountain  stream. 

In  some  ways  we're  so  damned  sterile  today.   Probably  that's 
one  of  the  things  that's  the  matter  with  us  [laughter],  that  we've 
achieved  sterility  and  we're  not  conditioned.  My  son  is  a  doctor, 
and  if  one  of  the  children  drops  something  on  the  floor  they  have  to 
eat  it.   They  should  absorb  germs,  they  should  develop  a  resistance. 
What  is  there  on  the  floor?  You  walk  outside,  well — if  there's  an 
epidemic,  if  there  was  something  here  we'd  take  care  of  it  in  another 
way.   So  my  whole  experience  at  Bakers  Beach  all  my  life  was  that  the 
sewer  emptied  into  it,  and  literally  the  whole  mile — the  whole  coast 
there — you  had  to  watch  your  step,  if  you  know  what  I  mean.   But  it 
didn't  make  any  difference.   That  was  it.   The  situation — what  do 
you  do?  You  manage  it.   You  watch  your  step. 

Teiser:   What  you  were  saying  of  Dr.  Land — * 

*See  p.  33. 


Adams:    Yes,  Dr.  Land's  incredible  ability  getting  along  with  people, 

situations — just  don't  react,  except  to  art — art  and  music.   But  you 
come  across  a  situation  with  people,  don't  feel  worried  about  it. 
Just  say,  "Now,  what's  this  situation?"  You'll  usually  find  out  it's 
something  that  can  be  solved.   Maybe  it  can.  Maybe  it's  a  sour 
marriage  over  here,  or  somebody  wants  to  put  Mama  in  a  retirement 
home  over  there,  usually  bothersome  family  things.   Other  things 
become  emotional — you  get  mad  because  someone's  appointed  a  director 
of  a  museum,  and  you  know  he's  a  fake,  and  you  think,  why  was  he 
appointed?  He  had  something  to  offer,  and  if  he  offers  it  and 
achieves  it,  it's  all  right.   If  he  doesn't,  they'll  get  somebody 
else.   Don't  worry.   And  clinical  things.   Although  Dr.  Land  is 
concerned  about  the  situation  now  (he  thinks  it's  pretty  bad),  he  is 
one  of  the  few  who  could  point  to  a  way  out  of  it.   There  are  more 
than  two  hundred  million  of  us,  and  about  one  million  at  the  most 
are  interested  in  conservation  and  ecology.   We  just  talk  to  ourselves 
and  we  think  we  represent  the  whole  world.   We  mismanage  because  we 
don't  realize  that  the  vast  majority  of  the  people — the  ghetto  people, 
the  farm  people — are  not  interested  in  "conservation"  as  we  believe  it 
to  be.   Their  whole  history  of  man  is  taking  down  wilderness  and 
building  farms.   We  must  "manage,"  not  just  always  oppose  the  world. 
That's  one  of  the  reasons  I  got  out  of  the  Sierra  Club.   I  felt 
perfectly  useless  in  the  face  of  what  I  felt  was  irrational  thinking. 

Teiser:   Let's  stop  on  "irrational  thinking." 

Adams:    Yes.  [Laughing]   Next  time  we'll  really  go  into  irrational  thinking! 
[End  Tape  2,  Side  1] 

[Interview  II  —  13  May  1972] 
[Begin  Tape  2,  Side  2] 

Photographic  Equipment 

Teiser:   When  you  took  your  first  photographs,  had  you  seen  photographs  that 
you  wished  you  could  take  pictures  like? 

Adams:    No,  no,  I  don't  think  so.   I  have  to  think.   The  family  had  an  old 
Kodak  Bullseye,  3  I/ A,  3  I/A;  I  used  to  take  pictures  down  at  the 
beach.   They  were  just  scenes,  but  there  never  was  anything  of  con 
sequence.   And  then  I  went  to  Yosemite  in  1916,  and  I  had  a  No.  1 
Brownie  and  took  pictures.   Then  I  wanted  to  take  some  more  pictures, 
so  I  got  a  choice  between  a  pair  of  two-wheeled  skates  or  a  Vest 


Adams:    Pocket  Kodak,  and  I  chose  a  Vest  Pocket  Kodak,  which  was  probably  a 

momentous  decision.   Then  I  got  really  interested,  and  my  cousin  gave 
me  a  1A  Speed  Kodak,  2  1/4,  4  1/4.   That  was  when  Folmer  &  Schwing 
was  still  part  of  Kodak.   They  made  this  focal  plane  roll  film 
camera,  which  was  an  exceedingly  good  one.   There  were  several 
cameras  made,  but  it  is  still  a  very  superior  instrument.   I  don't 
know  what  happened  to  that;  I  guess  I  turned  it  in. 

That  gave  me  a  larger  image,  you  know,  2  1/4,  4  1/4,  in  relation 
to  the  Vest  Pocket,  and  then  I  felt  I  really  ought  to  do  something 
good  size,  so  I  got  myself  an  old  four  by  five  Corona  view  camera — 
kind  of  a  classic  item.   It  was  the  cheapest  and  best  camera  of  its 
kind  then,  having  back  swings  and  tilts  on  axis  and  a  rising  front. 
The  one  I  had  was  in  pretty  bad  condition.   It  sagged  and  had  to  be 
levelled  up  for  almost  every  exposure,  but  I  used  it  for  a  long  time. 
Then  I  got  for  trips  a  3  1/4,  4  1/4.  (nine  by  twelve  centimeters, 
actually).   It  was  a  Zeiss  Mirroflex,  which  was  a  very  good  camera. 
And  then  I  got  a  6  1/2,  8  1/2  view  camera.   I  used  plates  on  that, 
although  I  did  later  have  film  holders.   That's  the  one  I  did  the 
early  Half  Dome  picture*  with. 

I  graduated  from  that  to  an  eight  by  ten  Folmer  view  camera. 
Somewhere  in  there  I  had  a  Deardorff  that  I  didn't  like  and  got  rid 
of  it,  and  then  I  had  a  five  by  seven  Linhof,  early  style,  and  in 
the  early  1930s  I  got  a  Zeiss  Contax,  one  of  the  few  35  mm  cameras 
made  at  the  time — it  still  remains  one  of  the  best  designed  cameras, 
although  there  are  others  that  are  equal  to  it  mechanically  today. 
And  then  I  sold  the  Folmer  view  camera  and  got  Miss  Louise  Boyd's 
Kodak  eight  by  ten  camera,  which  was  of  aluminum,  made  on  the  same 
pattern  as  the  wooden  view  camera.   Silliest  piece  of  engineering. 
I  still  have  it,  but  it's  just  ridiculous  to  look  at.   But  it  worked 

And  then  I  thought  I  really  would  go  "contemporary,"  so  I  had 
several  Zeiss  Contaxes  over  the  years.   And  I  then  got  a  Sinar,  a 
five  by  seven  camera  with  four  by  five  reducing  back.   That  was 
really  a  pretty  good  camera,  but  it's  very  heavy  and  it  didn't  have 
the  tilts  in  the  right  place.   The  tilts  are  on  base  instead  of  on 
axis.   The  later  system  is  so  much  quicker  in  adjustment.   So  I 
finally  got  rid  of  that  and  got  the  Area-Swiss,  which  I  use  now. 

In  the  meantime  I  received  a  camera  from  Hasselblad,  the  first 
camera  they  made  called  the  1600,  which  had  a  focal  plane  shutter  at 
1/1600  of  a  second  maximum  speed,  which  never  was  over  1/800.  They 
changed  that  model  to  a  1/1000  shutter  design.  Then  they  developed 
what  they  called  the  500C  with  the  Compur  leaf  shutters — a  far  more 
dependable  system.  I've  been  sort  of  a  consultant  to  them  over  the 

*See  p.  18  and  other  entries  indexed  under  "Monolith,  the  Face  of 
Half  Dome." 



Adams : 

Adams : 

years.   I  had  almost  everything  that  I  could  use — I  mean,  an  awful 
lot  of  stuff!   And  then,  of  course,  Polaroid  came  along,  and  from 
the  very  beginning  I've  had  Polaroid  cameras,  and  have  been  a 
consultant  to  Polaroid.   I  had  great  interest  in  the  cameras  and 
materials  and  in  the  quality  control  of  films.  And  then  I  think  it's 
safe  to  say  that  I  was  rather  instrumental  in  urging  the  four  by  five 
system  into  production;  the  system  includes  the  adapter  which  holds 
the  single  film  packet  which  is  used  with  the  view  camera,  and  it 
enlarges  the  scope  of  the  Polaroid  process  tremendously.  While  I'm 
no  engineer,  I  just  kept  encouraging  things  to  be  developed. 

The  year  before  last,  the  sale  was  sixteen  million  just  on  the 
four  by  five  system,  this  four  by  five  back  and  the  film  designed  for 
it.   Now  they  have  quarter-of-a-million-dollar  machines,  three  of 
them  putting  the  backs  together,  and  the  whole  system  is  going  very 
well.   It  is  getting  an  enormous  amount  of  use  in  science,  industry, 
microscopy,  and  creative  work.   I've  had  a  pretty  general  experience 
with  Polaroid!   Then  just  a  couple  of  days  ago  the  new  camera — now 
a  whole  new  system — was  announced.   I  must  say  it  is  fantastic! 

I  forgot  to  mention  some  Graflexes;  I've  had  several  Graflexes 
over  my  life.   I  have  a  3  1/4  by  4  1/4  and  two  4  by  5s. 

Do  you  still  use  those? 

Not  as  much  as  I'd  like,  but  I  often  use  them  with  Polaroid, 
fairly  valuable  instruments. 


I  forgot  to  mention  that  in  there  after  the  Mirroflex,  and  after 
the  Linhof,  the  first  Linhof,  I  had  two  Zeiss  Juels.   I  still  have 
them.   They're  very  handsome  cameras,  but  they  don't  have  many 
adjustments.   They're  more  of  a  folding  camera  with  a  revolving  back 

Then  I  have  also  Louise  Boyd's  aero  camera,  the  five  by  seven 
Fairchild  camera  that  she  used  in  her  exploration  of  Greenland,  which 
is  a  rather  extraordinary  outfit.   She  got  some  very  interesting 
stuff  with  it.   It's  big  and  as  heavy  as  sin,  you  know. 

How  did  you  happen  to  have  her  camera? 

Oh,  we've  known  her  for  a  long  time  and  she  was  disposing  of  her 
equipment.   I  sold  quite  a  few  things  for  her — some  very  elaborate 
navigation  instruments.   These  things  went  rather  cheap.   They  were 
not  worth  much  financially,  but  now  they  have  historic  value.   And  a 
set  of  optical  glass  filters  that  are  hard  to  come  by  now.  Grade  A 
glass,  about  1/2  inch  thick.   Absolutely  flat  plane. 

And  then,  let's  see.   What  would  be  the  next  step?  Hasselblad. 
I  never  owned  a  Rolleiflex.   I've  had  several  enlargers.   Also  the 
Polaroid  MP-3  camera,  an  industrial  camera. 


Teiser:   What  use  do  you  make  of  that? 

Adams:    Well,  that's  really  a  copy  camera.   It's  on  a  stand,  with  lights, 
for  copying  other  pictures  or  documents,  or  objects  in  the  round. 
And  you  can  use  half-tone  screens  and  get  screened  images  on  Type  61, 
all  ready  to  go  for  lithography,  having  an  offset  plate  go  to  200-line 

I  have  the  usual  bunch  of  tripods  and  accessories,  finders  and 
lens  shades  and  all  that  stuff — filters,  exposure  meters,  etc.   You'd 
be  surprised  what  you  can  collect  in  a  lifetime  of  photography.  My 
studio  looks  like  a  flea  market.   And,  the  trouble  is  few  items  have 
any  real  value,  but  you  hate  to  give  them  up.   I've  got  filters  that 
don't  fit  any  camera,  but  I  just  hate  to  let  them  go.   They're 
perfectly  good  filters. 

Teiser:   How  much  strobe  equipment  have  you  collected? 

Adams:    I've  done  very  little  with  artificial  light.   I've  a  ColorTran  set, 
I've  a  Graflex  Stroboflash  IV,  and  I've  used  it,  but  I  just  don't 
like  artificial  light.   Now  these  are  the  things  that  I  should  get 
rid  of,  but  if  you  do  that  suddenly  comes  some  situation  where  you 
need  them. 

Like  last  year,  I  photographed  something  and  couldn't  do  it 
outside,  so  I  had  to  use  my  ColorTran  (that's  the  new  halogen  lamps). 

And  I  had  my  cars,  with  the  big  platform  I  transferred  from  car 
to  car,  and  I  gave  it  to  my  former  assistant  as  a  wedding  present  to 
put  on  her  big  car. 

Photography  and  Technology 

Teiser:   After  you  started  making  pictures  with  those  first  cameras,  I  assume 
the  progression  was  in  both  your  own  skill  and  improved  equipment. 

Adams:    At  the  very  beginning  you're  just  taking  images  at  the  diary  level, 

and  I  don't  think  you  think  at  all  about  it.   You  see  something  there 
and  you  want  to  make  a  picture  of  it.   Now  just  the  preservation  of 
what  you  see  is  one  thing,  but  the  excitement  of  making  a  picture 
at  the  lowest  level  of  technique  is  still  an  important  factor. 

The  majority  of  people  just  work  on  that  basis,  and  a  lot  of 
cameras  are  designed  to  be  foolproof  so  anybody  can  get  a  reasonably 
bad  picture.   A  lot  of  these  cameras  are  automatic  and  you  have  no 
controls.   Polaroid  has  been  very  generous  in  that  way  of  thinking 
and  has  produced  these  automatic  cameras  with  "lighter"  and  "darker" 
controls.   You  do  have  some  selection  of  exposure  value. 


Teiser:   Do  you  remember  at  all  your  first  consciousness  of  cause  and  effect, 
of  the  whole  span  of  the  system  that  you're  so  very  technical  about 

Adams:    I  think  about  my  picture  of  Half  Dome,  made  I  think  about  1923  or  '26.* 
I  got  deeply  interested  after  that  and  concentrated  on  visualization 
and  technique.   The  techniques  don't  do  you  any  good  at  all,  unless 
you  first  visualize  your  picture.   It  isn't  just  exposure  and 
development,  looking  at  a  meter  and  thinking,  "I  give  so  much 
exposure,"  etc.   You  have  to  "see"  the  image  and  must  have  enough 
technique  to  know  what  you're  doing.   A  man  called  me  up  today  from, 
I  think,  Ohio,  and  he  wanted  to  know  how  to  make  a  pinhole  camera. 

Teiser:    [Laughter]   He  had  to  phone  you  for  that? 

Adams:    Oh  yes,  and  of  course  it  was  perfectly  obvious  from  the  beginning 
he  didn't  know  the  first  thing  about  photography.   He  wanted  to  do 
color,  eleven  by  fourteen  color.  Well,  you  have  to  tell  him  that 
when  you  use  eleven  by  fourteen  color  with  a  pinhole  camera,  that's 
a  problem!   His  exposure  time  would  be  something  like  two  hours,  and 
the  reciprocity  effect  of  the  film  would  be  so  distorted,  as  well  as 
the  exposure  values  increased,  that  it  would  probably  end  up  with  a 
six-hour  exposure  with  filters — even  more  than  that — and  results 
couldn't  be  guaranteed.   Well,  he  hadn't  thought  of  that,  you  know, 
and  he  had  the  funniest  ideas  about  the  kind  of  depth  of  field  you'd 
get  with  a  pinhole.   If  you  knew  the  first  thing  about  optics,  you'd 
know  that  you  don't  get  any  depth  of  field,  you  get  a  transmission 
of  pencils  of  light,  from  all  parts  of  the  subject  through  the 
pinhole,  and  it's  a  perfectly  beautiful  "correct"  image,  but  of 
course  it  has  chromatic  aberration.   As  you  extend  your  bellows,  you 
see,  your  image  gets  bigger  and  bigger  and  bigger,  and  your  exposure 
gets  longer  and  longer  and  longer. 

So  we  had  about  fifteen  minutes  of  talk  on  that.   It  was  his 
nickel,  but  it  was  interesting  to  me  to  find  out  how  little  some 
people  know  about  photography.   He  said,  "How  do  you  know  what 
exposure  to  give?"  I  said,  "Well,  you  have  a  sixty-fourth  of  an 
inch  pinhole,  and  you  have  a  ten-inch  focus  extension  of  the  camera, 
and  there  you  have  f/640."  "That  small?"  "I'm  sorry,  that's  the 
two  times  two  equals  four  principle."  [Laughter]  You  see,  here  he 
was  going  ahead  with  his  project  and  he  couldn't  find  any  data 
anywhere  so  he  calls  me  up.   I'm  not  an  encyclopedia,  and  there's 
many  things  about  pinhole  photographs  I  don't  understand,  such  things 
as  diffraction  and  vignetting.   But  you  see,  you  have  to  think  of 
optical  and  chemical  techniques.   It's  useful  to  understand  complex 
ity  up  to  a  certain  point,  and  then  it  does  the  job  that's  needed  in 
photography  in  the  ordinary  sense.   It's  like  an  iceberg — only  one 
quarter  above,  and  that's  all  a  photographer  really  has  to  know. 
But  the  scientist  has  to  know  the  three-quarters  below  in  order  to 

*"Monolith,  the  Face  of  Half  Dome." 


Adams:    design  lenses  and  make  emulsions  and  papers  and  evaluate  scientific 
results.   But  we  don't  have  to  go  that  far.   I  don't  have  to  know 
the  basic  theory  of  the  latent  image.   I  console  myself  by  saying, 
"Nobody  really  knows  much  about  it  anyway!"  but  you  should  see  some 
of  the  purely  technical  works  on  such  subjects! 

Teiser:   Were  you  reading  technical  papers  all  of  the  time? 

Adams:    I  couldn't  say  I  was  reading  truly  technical  papers.   I  was  reading 
books  and  papers  on  practical  technique,  and  that's  a  distinction. 
Of  course  in  my  early  period,  1920s  and  '30s,  very  few  knew  what  they 
were  doing.   There  were  all  kinds  of  contradictions  and  myths  and 
hocus-pocus  going  on.   They  were  doing  some  of  the  funniest  things 
in  photography  you  can  imagine.  And  then  the  bad  thing  about 
photography  literature  is  that  errors  have  been  perpetuated.   I've 
been  guilty  of  that  myself,  just  assuming  that  because  I  see  in 
somebody's  book  that  I'm  pretty  sure  is  an  authority,  that  a  certain 
developer  works  a  certain  way,  I  repeat  that,  and  then  I'm  called  to 
account  by  an  advanced  technologist  who  says,  "I'm  sorry,  but  your 
statements  are  passe."  Photography  is  complex  and  you  cannot  some 
times  define  the  separate  actions  of  materials  and  processes.   For 
example,  the  temperature  coefficient  of  Metol  and  Hydroquinone  in 
combination  is  not  the  same  when  they're  singly  used.   And  so  I  have 
to  correct  that  in  the  next  edition  of  my  book,*  you  see.   So  that's 
the  way  it  goes.  Actual  technical  papers  are  something  entirely 
different;  they  relate  to  basic  scientific  investigation,  and  95 
percent  of  that  is  beyond  me.   And  I  have  no  need  for  it. 

Teiser:   Adolph  Gasser  said  that  your  technical  knowledge  was  quite  profound 
and  that  you  often  lost  him,  but  of  course  he's  not  precisely  that 
kind  of  technical  man  either. 

Adams:    Oh,  no.   He's  a  very  fine  mechanic,  but  he's  not  a  photographer. 

I  was  at  a  scientific  meeting,  and  a  man  from  Kodak  laboratories 
said,  "In  spite  of  all  the  complex  papers,  your  books,  The  Negative 
and  The  Print,**  give  the  only  completely  clear  expression  of  the 
process  that  there  is."  I  said,  "Well,  there  must  be — "  and  he  said, 
"No,  there's  just  a  lot  of  things  that  you're  told  to  do  but 
nobody's  ever  said  why  it  works  or  how  it  works  or  what  you  can  do 
to  control  it."  I  said,  "Well,  my  work  just  touches  the  surface  of 
technology."  "Yes,"  he  said,  "but  you  test  it  far  enough."  You 
have  to  make  tests  and  trials  of  materials  in  terms  of  practical 
photography.   If  you  went  any  further  than  that,  you'd  be  confusing 
the  general  photographer. 

*In  the  Basic  Photo  book  series. 
**In  the  Basic  Photo  series. 

See  below  and  index. 


Teiser:   How  did  you  ever  happen  to  make  the  decision  (if  it  was  your 

decision)  to  devote  so  much  of  your  time  to  writing  that  technical 
series?   It  must  have  taken  time  away  from  your  photography. 

Adams:    I  guess  it  did.   Looking  back  at  it,  I  did  far  too  much  of  it.   It's 
a  matter  of  getting  mixed  up  with  galleries  and  museums,  photographic 
politics,  you  know,  all  those  kinds  of  things.   It  does  take  time 
and  energy,  but  you  seem  to  have  an  awful  lot  of  it  when  you're 
younger.   I  think  any  professional  has  an  obligation  to  continue  and 
support  his  profession.   You  take  doctors,  for  instance.   A  good 
doctor  has  to  do  a  lot  of  study  as  well  as  teaching  and  convention 
work,  writing,  and  reporting.   Scientists'  reputations  really  depend 
pretty  much  on  what  they  publish.   Some  scientists  have  got  three  or 
four  hundred  papers  to  their  credit.   Dr.  Land  and  the  late  Meroe 
Morse,  his  famous  chief  assistant,  got  a  coveted  prize  for  the  best 
article  on  photo  technology.   I  can  only  understand  one-tenth  of  it! 
But  these  things  contribute  hugely  to  the  medium. 

Innovations  and  Patents 

Adams:    The  difficulty  in  industry  is  that  pure  science  can  be  written  about 
whenever  the  nature  of  science  is  being  directed  to  a  project.   But 
then  it  becomes  immediately  very  secret  until  the  patents  are 
obtained.   And  then  production  methods  remain  very  confidential. 
You  have  to  be  a  constant  watchdog  because  once  you  allow  a  patent 
to  be  breached  in  any  way  you're  out  of  luck. 

Teiser:   Eastman  does  the  same  thing  as  Polaroid? 

Adams:    Yes,  they  undoubtedly  do  the  same  thing.   They  have  a  tremendous 

laboratory,  and  they  do  a  great  deal  of  basic  science.   The  problem 
is  they  don't  have  much  imagination.   Polaroid's  labs  work  on  a 
very  different  basis.   They  know  they  have  to  make  money,  and  they 
always  have  done  extremely  well,  but  the  company  as  a  whole  doesn't 
approach  these  programs  only  on  finance.   They  approach  them  on 
creativity.  Now  Land  had  no  reason  to  present  this  camera  to 
scientific  and  technical  groups  other  than  that  he  wanted  the 
community  of  scientists  to  know  what  was  going  on.   Eastman  might  not 
do  a  thing  like  that.   They'd  present  it  to  their  own  salesmen  and 
dealers.   But  to  really  go  into  depth  the  way  Land  did,  for  a 
scientific  group,  which  means  not  holding  anything  back,  is  remark 
able.  He  has  of  course  given  many  professional  demonstrations  of 
various  aspects  of  the  Polaroid  process. 

Teiser:   Will  the  new  SX-70  camera  have  implications  for  designs  of  other 
single-lens  reflex  cameras? 


Adams:    I  don't  know.   I  think  it's  Polaroid's  concept  for  quite  a  time  to 

Teiser:   The  SX-70  camera  is  for  color  only? 

Adams:    So  far.   They  may  have  black  and  white  some  day. 

Teiser:   No  reason  there  shouldn't  be,  is  there? 

Adams:    No,  I  suppose  theoretically  you  could  say  if  you  can  do  it  in  color 

you  can  do  it  in  black  and  white,  but  there's  nothing  sure  about  that, 

Innovations  and  Aesthetic  Demands 

Teiser:   Is  there  any  work  being  done  in  any  systems  not  making  use  of 

Adams:    Oh,  the  laboratories  are  spending  fortunes  on  it. 
just  assume  this.   It's  a  very  interesting  thing: 

I  don't  know.   I 
way  back  in  the 

1830s  they  found  out  that  silver  halide  is  light  sensitive  and 
they've  found  nothing  since  then  that  equals  itl  We  have  what  they 
call  Diazo;  that's  a  dye  image,  pretty  complicated  and  not  permanent 
and  rather  bad  color.   Very  bad  even  in  black  and  white  because  it 
has  to  be  a  condensed  color  image.   Then  of  course  Xerox  is  electro 
static  image,  which  is  very  important.   Again  it's  very  slow  and  it 
has  a  limited  range. 

This  Polaroid  print  of  a  marble  head  and  leaf  is  practically 
what  we  call  a  "straight- line  image."  You  can't  make  a  print  like 
that  on  ordinary  paper.   I  haven't  been  able  to  make  a  print  to  come 
anywhere  near  it  in  quality.   Now  just  why  that  is,  is  psychologic 
ally  hard  to  define. 

I  think  there's  a  response,  an  instinctive  response  to  creative 
patterns.   The  highly  gifted  artist  has  that  to  a  much  greater 
extent  than  others.   It  has  either  been  developed  or  hasn't  been. 
Perhaps  it  is  a  truly  instinctive  quality. 

Making  Photographs  and  Printing  Negatives 

Adams:    I'm  sure  if  you  heard  some  music  coming  out  of  the  phonograph  that 
was  Wagner  you'd  immediately  recognize  it,  and  yet  you  might  play 
Strauss  or  Beethoven  and  get  the  same  sounds,  but  that  isn't  it,  you 

Adams:    see.   The  same  orchestra,  the  same  instruments,  but  something  else 
"happens."  That  whole  thing  applies  to  photography  in  the  sense  of 
values.   The  difference  between  a  fine  print  and  an  ordinary  print  is 
terribly  hard  to  define;  in  fact  you  can't,  in  a  physical  sense.   It 
is  a  profound  composite  experience;  putting  everything  together  and 
instinctively  meeting  internal  demands. 

So  I  think  it  would  be  hard  to  say  just  when  did  the  casual 
interest  in  making  pictures  with  emphasis  on  subject  change  into  an 
awareness  of  the  image  as  a  thing  in  itself?  You  think  of  photography 
as  an  analytic  art.   The  optical  image  of  the  world  is  very  precise, 
so  you've  got  to  get  the  camera  in  a  position  where  you  get  the 
maximum  formal  arrangements  that  you  want.   Then  you  make  all  kinds  of 
tonal  and  spatial  separations.   That's  one  of  the  things  that  you 
learn  very  quickly.   Like  I  told  you  yesterday,  you're  sitting  here, 
and  it  doesn't  bother  me  when  I'm  talking  to  you  that  the  window  cord 
comes  out  of  your  left  ear  or  right  ear  [laughter].   I  move  around 
and  control  the  relationship  in  space  and  time.   But  if  I  have  the 
lens  here,  the  picture  shows  a  curtain  cord  coming  out  of  your  right 
ear,  a  highly  unpleasant  thing.   This  suggests  the  idea  of  following 
lines  without  mergers  or  confusions.   And  then,  what  is  the  value  of 
the  skin?  I  can  measure  the  light  reflected  from  your  face. 
Probably  fifty  c/ft   (candles  per  square  foot)  on  one  side,  and 
fifteen  c/ft^  on  the  other,  but  what  does  it  feel  like  in  terms  of 
the  print?   If  you  know  the  zone  system,  you  know  where  you  place 
your  values  on  the  exposure  scale  of  the  negative,  and  that 
automatically  tells  you  how  to  expose  and  develop. 

And  then  I  think  it  is  very  important  as  a  reference  idea  would 
be  to  compare  the  negative  to  the  composer's  score  and  the  print  to 
the  performance.   It  doesn't  mean  what  you  call  the  photometric 
equivalent.   If  you're  getting  a  negative  that  has  the  same  propor 
tion  of  values  as  the  negative,  you'd  be  going  through  the  photometric 
equivalent  sequence.   That  might  have  value  in  science,  but  it  would 
not  have  value  as  an  expressive  picture.   In  fact  it  might  be 
extremely  unpleasant. 

Teiser:   Different  performers  have  performed  Bach,  say,  differently,  so  there 

are  variations  in  performance.   Can  you  conceive  of  taking  one  of 

your  negatives — say  that  you  made  many  years  ago — and  printing  it 
now  in  quite  a  different  way  than  you  did? 

Adams:    I  do,  I  do.   But  it's  not  so  different  that  it  changes  the  basic 

character.   I  might  print  it  harder,  or  I  might  print  it  softer,  I 
might  print  it  bigger,  I  can't  really  do  anything  fundamentally 
different  with  it.   I  can't  change  the  subject  of  it,  but  I  can 
change  the  interpretation.   I  was  going  through  a  lot  of  old  pictures 
just  the  other  day,  and  I  couldn't  understand  how  I  could  have 
printed  them  that  way.   They  just  looked  tired.   They  had  a  small 


Adams:    density  scale  (the  reflection  density  scale).   So  if  I  took  the 
negative  and  printed  it  so  extremely  different  that  there 'd  be  a 
really  different  image,  that  might  be  questionable.  Maybe  it  wouldn't 

Teiser:   In  this,  you're  both  the  composer  and  the  performer  yourself. 

Adams:    But  I  still  would  play  differently,  subtly  differently  within  the 

Teiser:   You  have  printed  negatives  of,  I  think,  Brady — 

Adams:     [Matthew  B.]  Brady  and  [Ben]  Wittick  and  [Arnold]  Genthe. 

Teiser:   Have  you  attempted  to  print  as  nearly  as  you  could  the  way  the 
photographer  printed  it? 

Adams:    In  the  Genthe  pictures  I  vastly  improved  it.   Genthe  used  a  terrible 
paper,  a  thing  they  call  Opal,  had  kind  of  a  bad  green  tone  and  dull 
surface.   So  most  of  his  pictures  are  very  romantic,  have  the  turn- 
of-the-century  feeling,  but  never  showed  all  the  negative  contained. 
So  I  made  the  print,  it  was  of  the  San  Francisco  before  the  fire.   I 
made  it  my  way,  and  I  took  it  down,  was  scared  to  death  to  show  it, 
and  he  loved  it.   I  was  afraid  he  might  say,  "Well,  I  don't  like  it 
that  brilliant."  Then  I  made  Genthe' s  "The  Street  of  the  Gamblers," 
a  fantastic  thing,  done  in  1904  with  an  old  Kodak,  roll  film. 
Beautiful  "anticipation."  You  could  possibly  pass  it  off  as  Arnold 
Genthe  or  W.  Eugene  Smith  or  Henri  Cartier-Bresson  by  the  style. 
But  all  his  prints  were  sort  of  brownish  green,  soft,  and  "goofy." 
As  for  using  glossy  prints — that  was  in  earlier  days  only  for  news 
paper  reproduction,  etc.   An  "art"  photographer  was  ashamed  to  make 
a  glossy  print,  you  know.   Now  we  do  the  opposite  thing.   We  want  as 
much  brilliance  as  possible! 

The  Brady  photographs,  the  photographs  of  the  Brady  group,  were 
informational  pictures,  and  they  were  done  on  wet  plates,  and  of 
course,  as  they  used  the  printing-out  process,  such  were  extremely 
contrasty.   The  printing-out  process  is  where  you  put  a  piece  of 
sensitive  paper  back  of  the  film  and  expose  it  in  strong  light,  and 
the  effect  of  the  light  reduces  the  silver  halide  in  the  print  paper 
to  silver.   You  can  see  the  picture  building  up.   The  printing  frames 
have  little  back  trap  doors  you  can  open  and  see  the  progress  of 
printing.   Now,  as  the  silver  builds  up  it  acts  as  a  shield  for 
further  exposure.   It  is  self-masking.   As  you  get  to  the  maximum 
black,  it  takes  a  longer,  and  longer,  and  longer  time,  and  in  the 
meantime  your  gray  and  white  values  come  through,  and  you  print 
until  you've  got  just  the  detail  you  want  in  all  the  values.   As  you 
print  more  than  required  you  get  gray  results.   But  a  modern  normal 
negative  printed  that  way  would  be  so  soft  you  would  get  very  weak 


Adams:    prints.   And  so  these  wet  plate  negatives  of  very  high  density  and 

contrast,  to  print  them  I  had  to  use  A20  Number  0,  the  softest  grade 
of  A20,  and  an  extremely  soft  developer.   I  did  get  some  prints  that 
were  very  close — simulated  the  originals — but  any  normal  treatment 
given  would  result  in  far  too  contrasty  prints. 

Teiser:   Eastman  wouldn't  make  you  a  special  emulsion  for  this  sort  of  thing? 
Adams:    Well,  they  could.   It  would  probably  cost  five  or  ten  thousand  dollars. 
Teiser:    I  see.  [Laughter] 

Adams:    It's  got  to  the  point  now  where  with  certain  items  you  have  to  order 
a  minimum  of  three  or  four  hundred  dollars'  worth.   For  instance,  if 
I  want  to  use  a  roll  of  paper  and  make  a  big  print  the  size  of  this 
door  on  No.  4  Kodabromide  double  weight  glossy,  I  have  to  order  about 
three  hundred  dollars'  worth.   They  don't  stock  it.   They  stock  the 
G  surface  and  they  stock  something  else.   They  have  the  paper,  and 
out  of  their  huge  rolls  they'll  cut  you  three  hundred  dollars'  worth. 
But  they  won't  make  up  rolls  in  boxes  and  send  them  out  in  the  country 
for  sale,  because  it  has  a  relatively  short  shelf  life  and  not  much 
if  sold.   If  you  keep  it  cool  it's  good  for  around  two  years,  and 
I've  used  paper  ten  years  old  by  putting  potassium  bromide  in  the 
developer  to  reduce  the  fog,  providing  it  hasn't  been  subjected  to 

Teiser:   Who  was  the  third  photographer  whose  photographs  you  said  you — 

Adams:    Ben  Wittick.   And  then  Bill  Webb  lives  down  here  near  us  who's  doing 
a  second  book  on  [Adam  Clark]  Vroman,  the  excellent  photographer  of 
the  Southwest.   He's  having  an  awful  time  printing,  because  the 
negatives  are  not  normal  negatives,  but  he's  got  a  fine  technique — 
he  can  manage  them.   But  you  can't  do  exactly  what  they  did  unless 
you  use  a  printing-out  paper.   And  you  can't  buy  any  good  printing- 
out  paper  today. 

[End  Tape  2,  Side  2] 
[Begin  Tape  3,  Side  1] 

Photographs  as  Commodities 

Teiser:   I  don't  know  Ben  Wittick.   When  was  he? 

Adams:    Oh,  in  the  seventies,  eighties,  nineties, 
let's  say. 

Teiser:   Where  did  he  photograph? 

Late  nineteenth  century, 


Adams:    Southwest  generally,  to  the  best  of  my  knowledge. 

You  see,  many  of  the  Brady  group,  when  the  Civil  War  was  over, 
went  west  to  photograph.   [Timothy  H.j  O'Sullivan,  [William  Henry] 
Jackson,  I  think  [F.H.]  Bell;  several  others  did,  went  into  profes 
sional  or  survey  work.   Of  course  they  were  all  relatively  young  men 
then,  and  a  lot  of  them  didn't  keep  up  photography. 

You  see,  Brady  didn't  make  photographs  himself.  He  was  a 
promoter  and  a  businessman.   He  would  contract  with  the  photographers 
for  their  services.   Beaumont  Newhall  and  I  went  through  about  five 
thousand  Brady  negatives  in  the  [National]  Archives  (a  big  set  had 
just  been  presented  them) ,  and  every  negative  envelope  had  the  name 
of  the  photographer  on  it.   But,  you  see,  the  photographer  was 
seldom,  if  ever,  given  credit  for  all  his  photographs.   But  Matthew 
Brady,  Incorporated,  studios  was  given  the  credit.   Now  when  [Roy  E.] 
Stryker  took  over  the  photographic  group  at  the  time  of  the  dust 
bowl — that's  the  Farm  Resettlement  project  history — he  got  his  group 
of  superb  photographers  together,  but  they  always  got  the  credit. 
That  was  the  difference;  the  photographers  got  the  credit.   F.S.A. 
[Farm  Security  Administration],*  Dorothea  Lange  photographed  for  it. 
They  always  gave  full  credit. 

Now,  we  don't  think  that  Brady  intended  to  omit  such  credits, 
but  photography  was  nothing  but  a  business  at  that  time.   And  if  you 
did  a  story,  you  wouldn't  give  credit  to  every  item  that  went  out. 
If  you  go  to  a  machine  shop  and  have  a  device  made,  it  would  be  made 
by  the  Blank  Machine  Company,  and  they  don't  name  Joe  Doaks,  etc., 
who  perhaps  did  the  actual  work.   So  it's  a  psychological  approach. 
Photography  didn't  mean  anything  in  terms  of  creative  art.   The  men 
even  exchanged  negatives.   O'Sullivan  would  bemoan  the  fact  that  he 
didn't  have  something  of  the  Southern  Colorado  plateau,  for  example, 
but  Jackson  had,  so  he'd  trade  him  one  for  something  else. 

So,  photography  was  a  kind  of  commodity.   They  only  became 
conscious  of  it  as  a  personal  and  expressive  art  at  a  much  later 
date.   Excepting  a  few  people  (very  few) — Stieglitz,  Cameron,  [Paul] 
Strand — those  people  maintained  the  integrity  of  the  artist.   I  think 
Vroman  was  probably  okay.   He  realized  what  he'd  done.   But  then  on 
the  other  hand,  it  was  a  kind  of  exploitation  to  allow  the  Union 
Pacific  to  use  his  photographs  and  hand-color  them.   God-awful 
calendars  and  posters  and  timetables  that  were  hand-colored  re 
productions  ad  nauseam!  I  don't  know  how  far  I'm  going  afield — 

Teiser:   No,  no.   It's  all  within  the — 

*Stryker  headed  the  photographic  unit  of  the  historical  section  of  the 
Division  of  Information  of  the  Resettlement  Administration,  which  in 
1937  became  the  Farm  Security  Administration. 


Photography  and  Politics 

Adams:    So  then  we  had  the  Photo  League  in  New  York,  which  formed  before 

the  war  [World  War  II]  primarily  as  a  cinema  group.   After  the  war  it 
was  re-formed  as  a  still  group.   It  was  taken  over  by  the  Commies  and 
was  put  on  the  "red  list."  Many  of  the  best  photographers  were  un 
wittingly  trapped  in  that.   I  was  tipped  off.   I  was  down  here,  and 
they  called  me  up  and  said,  "This  board  is  now  in  control  of  the 
Commies  and  you  better  do  something  about  it."  So  I  called  my  lawyer 
and  he  said,  "Write  them  a  letter  and  ask  them:   Are  you  becoming 
politically  inclined  or  aren't  you?  I  joined  as  simply  a  photographer." 
And  he  said,  "Send  a  copy  to  the  F.B.I."  I  didn't  get  any  answer,  so 
I  sent  them  a  resignation.   I  said,  "I  joined  this  for  photographic 
purposes,  not  for  political  or  ideological  reasons.   I  don't  want  to 
be  associated  with  Republican,  Democrat,  Commie  or  anything.   I  mean 
it's  bad  business  to  get  all  wrapped  up  in  the  political  thing."   I 
sent  that  to  the  F.B.I,  too,  and  the  letters  got  me  clearance  quite 
fast  when  I  needed  it  most,  because  I  had  disclaimed  any  political 
association.   But  other  young  people  paid  no  attention  to  it  at  all. 
One  of  them  had  a  job  with  the  government  overseas  and  got  all  the 
way  over  to  London  before  he  was  investigated  and  sent  home. 

That  was  mostly  in  the  awful  McCarthy  period,  so  even  if  you  had 
only  read  a  chapter  of  Marx,  you  were  a  subversive.   Of  course,  as  an 
American  that  makes  you  very  mad.   But  the  thing  I  resented  was  not 
any  fear  for  myself  from  the  thing,  because  I  knew  what  I  believed  in, 
but  being  automatically  included  in  the  propaganda  business.  My  best 
rejoinder  is  now  if  you  want  me  to  join  things — if  somebody  calls  up 
very  impassioned  and  says,  "You  must  write  a  letter  to  the  government," 
I  say,  "I'm  just  not  a  push-button  liberal."  A  lot  of  people  say, 
"Oh,  sure,  I'll  come  right  out  with  an  idea  that's  in  favor  of  any 
thing  a  Democrat  would  say,  and  any  Republican  is  bad,"  and  so  on. 
(And  vice  versa,  I  can  assure  you.)   But  it's  fairly  hard  sometimes 
to  be  really  logical,  retain  a  logical  opinion,  and  so  I  just  have 
that  phrase  to  fall  back  upon,  "I'm  not  interested  in  being  a  push 
button  liberal." 

Group  f/6A 

Teiser:   Back  to  an  earlier  organization  that  you  were  part  of  and  then 
disbanded — 

Adams:    Oh,  the  f/64  Group,  yes? 


Teiser:   Do  you  remember  how  that  started? 

Adams:    Yes.   For  several  years  after  1930,  two  years  anyway,  I  had  been 

talking  to  my  friends  about  getting  a  group  together  and  profess — 
watch  that  cat  so  it  doesn't  get  out! — you  know,  make  sort  of  a 
manifesto  on  straight  photography,  because  the  camera  club  people  were 
pretty  dismal;  [William]  Mortensen  down  south  [in  Southern  California] 
was  a  prime  example.   Oh,  there  was  some  terrible  stuff. 

So  Willard  Van  Dyke  and  a  few  others  said,  "It's  a  good  idea; 
what '11  we  call  it?"  It  was  Willard  who  came  up  with  "f/64."  That 
means  a  small  stop,  a  very  small  stop  on  the  lens — which  [makes  for] 
clarity  and  depth,  the  kind  of  image  qualities  typical  of  Edward 
Weston's  work  and  our  work.   We  don't  enjoy  any  fuzzy  imagery  anywhere. 

We  had  this  group  formed,  with  Edward  Weston,  Sonia  Noskowiak, 
John  Paul  Edwards,  Alma  Lavenson,  Willard  Van  Dyke,  Imogen  Cunningham, 
Henry  Swift,  and  myself.  We  had  several  very  interesting  shows,  and 
supported  a  kind  of  manifesto  (you  know,  like  the  Dadaists);  we  pro 
tested  against  the  conventional  misuse  of  the  medium.   Here  was  this 
beautiful  medium  of  photography  which  was  being  bastardized  by  soft- 
focus  lenses  and  paper  negatives  and  all  of  the  things  that  they  used 
to  make  the  lens  image  look  unlike  a  photograph.   And  then  after  a 
year  or  so,  we  decided  that  we'd  done  all  we  could,  and  we'd  just 
repeat  ourselves;  it  would  become  a  cult,  and  Weston  didn't  want  to 
be  in  a  cult,  so  we  decided  we'd  simply  disband.   However,  it  did 
create  a  cult,  and  the  cult  is  still  with  us!   Everybody  apparently 
creates  a  cult.   Edward  Weston  had  a  cult,  and  I  guess  I've  got  one; 
people  are  imitating  me.   But  Group  f/64  did  have  a  profound  influence 
on  making  people  realize  that  the  straight  photographic  image  could  be 
beautiful,  and  not  the  pictorial  doctored  one. 

Teiser:   Maybe  this  is  the  place  to  correct  a  thing  that's  in  print.   The 

Gernsheim  A  Concise  History  of  Photography  says  that  Willard  Van  Dyke 
started  the  f/64  Group. 

Adams:    Well,  I  would  say  Willard  Van  Dyke  was  instrumental,  certainly  a 
leader.   I  would  say  (this  is  not  boasting)  I  had  proposed  such  a 
group  for  two  years.  Willard  Van  Dyke  activated  it — said,  "Well, 
let's  do  it,"  you  see,  and  proposed  the  name.   That's  half  right,  at 
least.   I  don't  think  it  makes  much  difference  so  long  as  the  other 
people  are  mentioned. 

Teiser:   The  others  were  all  established  by  that  time? 

Adams:    Some  were  amateurs  and  some  were  professionals.   Imogen  Cunningham 
was  a  professional;  Alma  Lavenson  was  semi-professional;  Noskowiak 
was  professional;  I  was  a  professional;  Van  Dyke  was  quasi- 
professional — he  was  really  interested  in  film  but  running  a  gas 


Adams:    station  to  make  a  living,  and  also  doing  black  and  white  photographs. 
And,  of  course,  Edward  Weston  was  a  creative-professional.   Then 
there  was  Henry  Swift,  the  businessman,  but  of  rare  creative  ability, 
and  John  Paul  Edwards,  who  was  a  former  pictorialist,  a  businessman. 

Teiser:   How  did  you  happen  to  let  him  in? 

Adams:    He  was  good. 

Teiser:   He  was  within  the  scope? 

Adams:    He  was  within  the  pattern.   He  was  very  supportive  of  the  thing  and 
was  doing  very  good  photographs. 

Teiser:   Did  you  discuss  "painterly"  photographs? 

Adams:    Painterly?  Oh,  well,  I  guess  that  was  what  we  were  fighting.   We 
were  fighting  the  idea  of  photographs  imitating  the  feeling  or  the 
looks,  the  appearance  of  other  media.   The  straight  photograph  was 
sneered  at.   There  was  no  possibility  of  it  being  art,  so  earlier 
photographers  were  always  trying  to  add  something  to  simulate  art. 
That  was  done  with  paper  negatives,  and  texture  screens,  and  rough 
papers,  and  bromoils  and  gum  prints — everything  imaginable!  You 
just  look  through  Caf fin's  history — I'll  loan  it  to  you.   Have  you 
seen  it  yet,  the  one  the  Friends  of  Photography  gave  to  the  members? 
Caf fin's  Photography  As  an  Art?*  I'm  going  to  give  you  that  book, 
because  that  will  show  you  much.   This  was  at  this  difficult  turn  of 
the  century,  when  Stieglitz  was  trying  to  get  away  from  the  domina 
tion  of  the  Manhattan  Camera  Club,  and  a  lot  of  these  people  such 
as  Gertrude  Kasebier  as  well — can't  think  of  them  all.   Out  here 
Ann  Brigman  did  nudes  and  junipers  at  Lake  Tahoe — all  soft  focus. 
But  they  were  very  definite  attempts  to  be  creative,  much  more  so 
than  the  ordinary  pictorialists,  who  were  just  being  literary  or 
descriptive  or  making  a  fetish  of  being  not  sharp.**  I've  had  people 
say  to  me,  "Now,  if  you  only  would  give  that  a  little  soft  focus, 
do  something  to  improve  it — it's  so  brutally  hard  now."  And  I  made 
all  kinds  of  soft-focus  pictures  on  rough  Dassonville  or  Wellington 
papers,  and  I  did  some  bromoils.   I've  got  a  bromoil  over  there, 
where  the  image  is  recreated  in  ink — beautiful  permanent  image, 
carbon  black.   But  not  sharp  I 

[End  Tape  3,  Side  1] 

*Charles  H.  Caf fin's  book,  originally  published  in  1901,  was  re- 
published  in  1971  by  Morgan  &  Morgan  for  the  Friends  of  Photography, 
**For  more  recollections  of  Group  f/64,  see  mentions  as  indexed. 


[Interview  III  —  14  May  1972] 
[Begin  Tape  3,  Side  2] 

Teiser:   Yesterday  we  were  talking  about  the  Caff in  book — 

Adams:    Yes.   The  idea  of  the  division  of  photography  between  the  "artistic" 
and  the  straight  record,  which  was  just  discussed — semantics  always 
seems  to  intrude  on  common  sense  in  photography — but  a  documentary 
record  would  imply  an  image  in  which  there  was  nothing  conveyed  but 
merely  a  factual  record.  You'd  have  a  competent  image;  you  may  be 
getting  as  much  as  possible  in  it,  but  none  of  it  might  carry  any 
conviction.  Most  of  the  very  early  photographs   (many  of  those  of 
today)  were  very  dull  pictures  of  things.   A  few  outstanding  people 
did  much  better.   But  the  straight,  detailed  photograph — a  sharp, 
simple  print,  of  course,  was  not  considered  artistic.   So,  the  so- 
called  "artistic  minded"  photographers  just  attempted  to  imitate 
painting.   And  there's  a  very  hazy  line  between  the  pictorialist , 
who  is  not  intense,  is  more  or  less  an  imitator,  and  the  person  who 
was  trying  to  think  of  photography  in  the  "feeling"  of  the  time, 
but  being  very  sensitive  to  composition  and  arrangement,  and  seeing. 
Although  many  of  their  prints  do  not  look  like  our  sharp  prints 
today,  there  is  a  very  definite  camera  "seeing"  ability,  and  it 
takes  quite  a  lot  of  study  to  really  confirm  that. 

This  Caffin  book,  for  instance,  has  some  of  it,  I  think.   Of 
course,  some  of  the  work  is  very  dull,  and  some  of  it  is,  in  a 
sense,  manipulated,  but  it  is  a  break  from  painting,  although  they 
used  a  lot  of  fancy  borders  and  toned  prints  and  so  on.   The  student 
of  photography  can  observe  that  they  weren't  "seeing"  the  world  as 
the  painter  might  see  it;  they  were  beginning  to  see  it  as 


Adams:    In  the  next  ten  to  twenty  years,  Stieglitz  represents  the  transition 
from  almost  imitative  work,  imitating  the  spirit  and  the  appearance 
of  other  media,  into  the  spirit  and  reasonable  impression  of  the 
photographic  image. 

Teiser:   There  are  two  Stieglitz  photographs  in  the  Caffin  book,  on  page  30 
and  page  36,  that  we  wondered  if  you'd  comment  upon. 

Adams:    The  greatest  body  of  Stieglitz's  work,  I  guess,  was  done  in  the 

eighties  and  nineties.   You  said  30  and  36?  Both  these  were  strictly 


Adams:    photographs,  pure  photographs,  in  existing  light.   They're  night 

pictures.   Their  effect  is  from  what  we  call  "existing  light."  In 
other  words,  the  light  in  this  room  is  existing.   The  light  outside 
is  existing.   Even  if  I  turn  on  the  lights  in  the  house,  that's 
existing  light.   The  instant  I  come  in  with  a  lamp  and  direct  the 
lamp  on  the  subject,  we  say  that's  "imposed  lighting,"  really 
artificial  lighting  in  the  sense  of  supplying  or  contriving 
illumination.   Now  there's  a  point  between  those  two  where  you  add 
light  to  either  simulate  or  enhance  the  existing  light.   And  if  you 
were  doing  this  picture,  say,  for  television  and  you  wanted  to  get 
the  spirit  of  this  house,  you  wouldn't  have  enough  light,  so  in  some 
way  you  would  have  to  direct  a  diffuse  built-up  illumination  so  that 
the  feeling  approached  a  simulation  of  reality.   But  the  chances  are 
they'd  just  come  in  and  put  a  big  light  over  there,  a  big  light  over 
here,  and  it  would  be  absolutely  false — to  the  character  of  the 
place  or  its  illumination. 

Teiser:    Stieglitz's  icy  night  picture,  the  earlier  one,  if  you  looked  at 

it  quickly  I  suppose  you'd  say  it  was  soft  focus,  but  perhaps  it's 
the  atmosphere.   The  other  seems  sharp. 

Adams:    Well,  no,  Stieglitz  might  have  used  soft  focus.   I  don't  know  what 
he  did;  I  mean,  he  did  everything  sooner  or  later.   But  there  were 
lenses  that  were  "uncorrected."  Well,  let's  see,  Weston  used  a 
portrait  lens  (the  name  will  come  to  me).   Whereas  at  the  larger 
openings,  it  was  slightly  soft  focus,  when  you  stop  down  around  16 
and  22,  it  gets  sharp.   The  Graf  Variable  Anastigmat  it  was  called. 
I  want  to  correct  that:   I  think  that  that  was  independent  of  the 
stop,  but  the  soft-focus  effect  came  by  separating  the  elements. 
In  other  words,  you  didn't  get  a  sharp  image. 

Now,  this  does — you're  quite  right — this  looks  like  a  slightly 
diffused  image.   It  might  also  be  a  way  of  printing  it,  maybe  a 
platinum  print  that  was  on  a  textured  paper.   I've  seen  it,  and  as 
I  remembered,  it  was  much  sharper  than  the  reproduction.   But  you 
mustn't  mix  up  sharpness  and  acuteness.   Acuteness  is  an  impression 
of  sharpness,  because  we  have  what  is  called  a  "micro-density 
relationship;"  that  is,  value-edges  from  light  to  dark  are  very 
abrupt.  Now,  if  you  have  a  diffusion  effect,  there's  a  curve  or 
slant  between  the  light  and  dark  values  instead  of  an  abrupt  change. 
So  this  photograph  looks  as  if  there  was  low  acuteness  in  the  snow- 
covered  branches,  but  as  you  look  down  other  places,  you  find  little 
dark  branches  that  look  quite  sharp.   So  you  think  somewhere  there's 
a  flare,  or  diffusion  of  light  or  silver.  When  you  look  over  here, 
you  think  it's  much  sharper,  and  it  is.   But  these  are  reproductions 
of  reproductions,  so  it's  awfully  hard  to  tell. 

Teiser:   Did  Stieglitz  ever  work  in  the  early,  pictorial  idiom? 
Adams:    Oh  yes.   He  did  lots  of  things  in  these  modes. 


Teiser:   And  then  did  he  just  suddenly  decide  that  that  was  not  the  way  to  go 
or — 

Adams:    Well,  let  me  see  now.   I'm  not  enough  of  an  historian  to  make  a 

correct  statement  here,  but  these  early  works  were  pretty  factual. 
He  went  around  the  Alps,  made  many  photographs  of  the  Alps,  and  in 
all  of  that  period,  his  work  was  quite  sharp,  as  I  remember.   Then 
he  went  back  to  America  in  the  1890s  and  1900s  and  was  trying  to  work 
at  the  Manhattan  Camera  Club,  and  did  some  things  that  really  weren't 
very  sharp,  and  whether  he  did  it  intentionally,  whether  that's  what 
he  wanted  to  do — just  keeping  up  with  the  Joneses — I  don't  know. 
But,  nevertheless,  he  did  make  quite  a  break  with  the  Manhattan  Club 
and  other  groups ,  and  said  that  photography  was  art  and  could  not 
imitate,  and  then  selected  works  which  he  felt  were  not  imitations 
of  general  work  of  the  time. 

Teiser:   By  the  time  you  knew  him,  he  was  established  in  this? 

Adams:    Oh,  well,  he  had  gone  through  the  whole  period  of  Camera  Work, 

publication,  and  a  great  deal  of  creative  work  that  became  sharper 
and  sharper  as  time  went  on.   Some  of  his  later  prints  are  very 
sharp.   I  have  a  print,  "City  at  Night" — it's  on  a  smooth  surface. 
It's  a  very  beautiful,  clear  photograph.   He  didn't  care  for  Weston. 
Stieglitz  had  a  vastly  greater  warmth  of  tone  and  warmth  of  feeling. 
Weston 's  work  was  more  intellectual,  straightforward,  black  and  white. 

Teiser:   You  knew  of  Stieglitz,  of  course — he  was  well-known  here  on  the 
Coast,  I  presume — before  you  went  east  in  1933. 

Adams:    No,  very  little.   He  was  known  by  reputation  here  only.   He  only 

went  as  far  west  as  Chicago  once.   He  was  a  distant  relative  of  the 
Sigmund  Sterns  [of  San  Francisco], 

Teiser:   Oh,  he  was?  Well, 

Adams:    Well,  it's  a  complicated  thing.   He  married  I  believe  into  the 

Lehmann  family,  and  Mrs.  Stern's  sister  married  a  Lehmannf?],  Charles 
Lehmann,  so  somewhere  they  were  second  or  third  cousins.   Charles 
Lehmann  was  a  brewer — Lehmann  breweries,  tremendously  wealthy  and 
lived  in  New  York.  Mrs.  Stern  knew  Stieglitz,  and  she  had  bought 
at  least  one  O'Keeffe,*  so  she  gave  me  a  letter  when  I  went  east, 
a  letter  of  introduction.   Weston  had  a  bad  time  with  him;  they 
didn't  get  along.   Stieglitz  could  be  very,  very  difficult.   In 
fact,  kind  of  ferociously  negative  at  times.   But  that  I  think  is 
a  separate  story,  that  whole  Stieglitz  episode.   My  meeting  with  him 
and  everything. 

Teiser:   Would  you  tell  it? 

Adams:    Most  of  this  material  is  in  The  Eloquent  Light — 

*Painting  by  Georgia  O'Keeffe. 


Teiser:   Yes. 

Adams:    But  I  went  there  with  this  letter,  and  it  was  an  awful  day,  a  rainy 
April  morning  in  1933.   Stieglitz  had  just  moved  into  the  American 
Place  on  Madison  Avenue,  and  he  wasn't  feeling  well  and  was  looking 
very  grim.   So  he  nodded  and  I  gave  him  my  letter,  and  he  opened  it. 
He  said,  "All  this  woman  has  is  a  lot  of  money,  and  if  things  go  on 
the  way  they're  going  now  she  won't  even  have  that.  What  do  you 
want?"  I  was  rather  mad,  really,  in  a  chivalrous  sense.   I  said, 
"I  came  up  to  meet  you  and  show  you  some  of  my  work."  He  said, 
"Well,  I  can't  possibly  do  it  now,  but  come  back  this  afternoon 
about  two-thirty,"  and  turned  his  back  on  me.   So  I  went  out  in  the 
streets  and  pounded  up  and  down  Madison  Avenue  in  the  rain  and  got 
madder  and  madder  and  madder  and  wanted  to  get  the  first  train  home. 
And  then  I  figured,  "No,  I  came  all  this  way  to  see  Stieglitz;  I'd 
better  stick  it  out." 

So  I  was  up  there  at  two-thirty,  and  Stieglitz  was  sitting  on 
this  cot,  with  a  sore  tongue — he  had  some  kind  of  a  circulatory 
trouble,  and  his  tongue  would  get  sore.   And  he  was  holding  his 
handkerchief  and  talking.   Finally  put  the  handkerchief  away  and 
then,  in  a  most  uncomfortable  position,  looked  through  my  portfolio. 
There  was  this  one  hard  cot,  and  the  only  thing  for  me  to  sit  on 
was  the  steam  radiator.   I  was  getting  gradually  corrugated  and 
grilled  on  the  steam  radiator  [laughter],  and  he  looked  all  through 
the  work — the  folios.   And  every  time  I  tried  to  say  something,  he 
put  his  hand  up  for  silence.   So  we  went  through  this  thing  in  dead 

Then  he  took  the  portfolio  and  he  closed  it  all  up  and  tied  all 
three  strings,  and  then  he  looked  at  me.   And  then  he  opened  the 
portfolio  up  again,  and  he  went  over  all  the  prints  again.   He  really 
looked  at  them — slantwise  to  the  light,  saw  how  they  were  done, 
mounted,  etc.  Well,  by  that  time,  me  and  the  radiator  were  not 
getting  along  too  well  and  I  was  pacing  around.   So  finally  he  tied 
it  up  again,  and  he  said,  "Well,  that's  about  the  finest  photography 
I've  seen  in  a  long  time.   I  want  to  compliment  you."  It  was  quite 
a  happy  shock,  and  from  that  time  on  we  were  very  good  friends.   But 
he  sure  made  it  difficult  at  first. 

The  first  moments  were  pretty  tough,  and  many  other  people  had 
a  similar  experience.  It  was  sort  of  a  testing.  If  he  didn't  like 
you,  he  didn't  like  you,  and  he  had  nothing  to  do  with  you — period. 
If  he  did  like  you,  he  was  fine,  but  he  was  irascible. 

Teiser:   Then  he  gave  you  a  show. 
Adams:    Then  in  1936  he  gave  me  a  show. 



Adams  ? 


Did  he  influence  your  work,  would  you  say? 

No.   Well,  what  he  did,  you  see,  he  affirmed  a  very  high  standard, 
and  opened  up  a  very  different  point  of  view  from  any  I'd  ever  known 
of  before.   And  that  point  of  view  was  reinforced  by  his  contact 
with  the  contemporary  arts.   He  was  the  one  that  brought  many  of  the 
greatest  contemporaries  to  this  country.   Steichen  would  meet  them 
and  see  them  in  Europe,  and  then  send  examples  of  their  work  to  him. 
So  he  gave  the  first  showing  to  Negro  sculpture  and  Picasso  and  many 
others  for  the  first  time  in  America — he  was  a  very  important 
influence  in  contemporary  art. 

So  the  influence  was  not  technical.   I  mean,  I  got  my  great 
craft  boost  out  of  Paul  Strand's  negatives  I  saw  in  New  Mexico 
earlier.   Paul  Strand  is,  in  a  sense,  a  purer  photographer  than 
Stieglitz.   I  mean,  a  straighter  photographer  if  you  want  to  use  the 
term.   But  the  Stieglitz  influence  was  a  contact  and  an  awareness  of 
a  bigger  world  than  I'd  ever  known,  you  see.   And  tying  photography 
in  with  that,  of  course,  gave  it  a  different  stature.   So,  it  was 
a  vital  new  experience.   Both  Stieglitz  and  Strand  did  have  a 
profound  effect  on  my  work.   It  would  be  hard  to  describe. 

Now,  I  knew  Weston  very  well;  we  were  very  close  friends,  and 
had  mutual  affectionate  regard.   But  his  work  never  moved  me,  never 
stirred  me  to  do  anything  different.   Just  reaffirmed  clarity.   In 
fact  I  was  bothered  by  the  emphasis  on  shape  and  form.   I  mean  I 
thought  he  was  extracting  sort  of  voluptuous  effects — shapes — out 
of  things  and  gave  them  sexy  undertones  or  overtones.   He  disclaimed 
that  most  of  the  time.   People  read  into  it  what  they  will.   Peppers 
looked  like  nudes,  etc.   And  that  bothered  me  because  I  thought  it 
was  an  imposition  of  something  on  the  object.   I  didn't  feel  it 
necessary  to  go  that  far.   I  think  Strand  felt  the  same  way.  And 
I  think  Strand  had  the  greatest  influence  on  me — 

You  met  him  in  New  Mexico  in  1930? 


What  was  he  like,  personally? 

Strand?  Oh,  he's  eighty-three  now,  and  he's — he's  a  little  aloof, 
a  little  dour,  moves  and  thinks  rather  slowly.   I  mean,  he's  very 
deliberate,  and  he's  a  very  fine  artist,  and — a  very  kind  and 
understanding  person,  indeed.   [Interruption  for  telephone  conversa 


Teiser : 

When  you  first  met  him  was  he  well  launched  on  his  career? 
well  known? 

Was  he 

Adams:    Oh  yes.   He  had  his  first  show  when  he  was  sixteen  or  seventeen. 
And  he'd  experimented  with  movies.   He  had  very  strong  leftist 
political  orientations.   In  fact  that's  why  he  moved  to  France. 
Couldn't  get  along  with  our  particular  system,  although  he'd 
inherited  quite  a  lot  of  money  and  seemed  to  take  advantage  of  the 
system,  as  so  many  people  do.   But  he  was  at  the  Photo  League  and 
stood  up  for  them  during  this  distressing  political  probe  and  was 
very  definitely  on  the  "list."  It  was  an  awful  thing.* 

Teiser:   But  was  he  personally  encouraging  to  you? 

Adams:  Yes,  yes.  He  didn't  see  many  of  my  things  until  much  later.  But  he 
was  very  reserved.  Yet  when  my  show  of  Manzanar  Relocation  Camp  and 
the  people — the  Japanese-Americans — was  at  the  Museum  of  Modern  Art, 
he  was  quite  visibly  moved,  wiping  his  eyes,  though  he  wasn't  saying 
anything.  Now  whether  that  was  because  of  the  social  implications, 
the  photography,  or  the  combination,  I  don't  know. 

V.  Adams:  I'm  going  down  to  Point  Lobos. 

Adams:    Look  out  for  that  road  there;  it's  very  dangerous.   [To  Teiser]   Ex 
cuse  me. 

Teiser:    I  think  in  Mrs.  Newhall's  The  Eloquent  Light  she  says  you  saw  at 
first  just  his  negatives  and  admired  them. 

Adams:    Yes.   You  see,  if  you're  a  photographer,  your  negatives  sometimes 
are  more  important  to  the  student  than  prints.   Now,  I  won't  say 
that  for  an  individual  picture.   I  mean,  you  might  not  visualize 
the  real  print,  but  when  you  see  a  series  of  negatives  and  they  all 
have  this  clarity  and  this  organization,  you  may  become  very  moved. 
And  you  realize  how  they  could  be  ruined  by  bad  printing.   Anybody 
who  could  make  negatives  like  those  was  a  superior  photographer. 
I  wouldn't  be  able  to  tell  just  how  he  would  print  them.   But  I  know 
that  the  negative  has  the  inherent  great  qualities.   I  think  some 
times  with  the  negative  you're  more  conscious  of  the  design  and 
organization  than  you  are  with  the  print  because  you  don't  have  the 
subjects  in  positive  form  dominating  you. 

Teiser:   I  suppose  when  I  ask  you  about  influences,  I'm  asking  for  over 
simplification.   I  mean,  I'm  sure  you  were  going  your  own  way. 

*See  p.  49. 


Adams:    I  don't  think  influences  are  always  very  obvious.   I  think  that  you 

never  know  what's  going  to  influence  you,  and  I've  seen  some  students' 
work  that  influenced  me  very  much.   I  mean  the  student  has  seen  the 
thing  in  a  new  way,  and  I  remember  that  whether  I  consciously  use  it 
or  not.   But,  I  certainly  was  negatively  affected  by  Mr.  Mortensen, 
by  the  pictorialists.   I  never  was  excited  about  Clarence  White ,  but 
lately  I'm  beginning  to  feel  much  better  about  him. 

Teiser:   Why? 

Adams:    Well,  he  had  a  very  fine  sense  of  composition  but  the  prints  were, 
with  a  few  exceptions,  a  bit  soft  and  vague  for  my  taste. 

I  think  that's  what  bothered  me.   I  was  kind  of  a  purist,  and 
I  was  feeling  that  a  lot  of  these  photographers  saw  things  very  well 
and,  like  some  workers  in  the  Photo  League,  just  made  bad  prints. 
And  you  learn  later  that  the  fine  print,  per  se,  is  something  which 
may  not  convey  the  idea.  Maybe  you  want  a  hard,  brutal  grainy  print, 
like  the  work  of  Lisette  Model;  it's  phenomenal  in  its  way.   The  most 
brutal  black  and  white  prints  you've  ever  seen,  and  in  absolute 
resonance  with  her  way  of  seeing  her  subjects.   So  I  think  it  would 
be  very  narrow  to  say  she's  not  a  great  photographer  because  her 
prints  don't  look  like  Weston's  or  mine.   You  know,  it  would  be 
silly — it  would  be  impossible.   I  think  if  I  were  to  take  a  Lisette 
Model  negative  and  make  a  rich-toned  print  and  beautifully  mounted, 
it  would  be  very  apparent  something  was  phony. 

I  think  that  in  the  professional  sense  [Anton]  Bruehl  strongly 
influenced  me,  and  Paul  Outerbridge,  Ira  Martin,  and  the  Morgans 
(the  Willard  Morgan  family),  of  course,  for  many  years.   But  I  really 
can't  describe,  for  a  student  to  figure  out,  where  the  influences  are 
because,  as  I  say,  I'd  go  on  trips  with  Edward  and  I'd  see  all  his 
work  and  prints,  and  we  were  the  closest  of  friends  and  had  great 
admiration,  but  nothing  really  important  happened  to  me  with  him. 
I  didn't  change  my  opinion  or  approach  at  all. 

Taste,  Perspective,  and  Distortion 

Teiser:    In  discussing  photography  with  people  whose  photographs  you  don't 
necessarily  admire  tremendously,  do  ideas  come  to  you  in  an  inter 
change  of  opinion? 

Adams:    Oh  sure.   Ideas  come.   Sometimes  I  have  occasions  to  be  very 

critical  because  of  unnecessary  sloppiness.  The  thing  that  bothers 
me  more  than  anything  else  is  weakness.  I  don't  mean  what  fascists 
would  say  was  weak,  but  just  no  body,  namby-pamby.  You  know,  many 


Adams:    musicians  just  play,  and  so  what?  Well,  many  of  the  photographs 
you  see  are  just  so  what?  The  way  the  photographers  see,  the  way 
they  print,  the  way  they  present  the  prints,  the  way  they  handle 
them.   When  I  see  a  kid  come  up  with  a  portfolio  and  he  has  a  nice 
print  protected  by  a  slipsheet,  the  chances  are  that  the  work  is 
good.   It  may  not  be;  it  may  be  a  great  shock;  you  might  find  some 
awful,  tasteless  things.   I  always  say,  there's  nothing  worse  than  a 
clear,  sharp  image  of  a  fuzzy  concept.  [Laughter]   You  get  a  terrible 
concept — it  might  be  physically  sharp,  but  it's  just  empty  or  in  bad 

Then  of  course  you  say  that  and  somebody  asks  back,  "Well,  how 
can  we  define  taste?  Can  you  really  say  that  you  can  define  what  is 
good  taste?" 

Teiser:    [Laughs]  Can  you? 

Adams:    Well,  you  can.   Now,  if  you  say,  "I  refer  you  to  art  standards," 

you're  saying  you  relate  tastes  in  photography  to  tastes  in  painting, 
and  you've  been  saying  that  there  shouldn't  be  that  influence. 

Teiser:   It's  too  bad  that  photography  wasn't  invented  first. 

Adams:    Well,  of  course  the  camera  obscura  was  used  for  a  long  time,  and  we 
don't  know  how  many  (I  suppose  it  is  known  somewhere)  old  paintings 
were  influenced  by  this  optical  image.   One  of  the  important  things 
to  me  is  that  one  of  the  first  daguerreotypes  in  1839,  that  one  of 
the  boulevards  in  Paris,  shows  that  the  lens  is  a  beautiful 
instrument.   It  has  no  distortion  and  shows  perfect  definition  over 
the  entire  field.   Now,  why  would  they  need  a  lens  like  that  before 
there  was  photography?  And  Beaumont  Newhall  said,  "They  used  to 
draw  and  project  architecture  on  the  screen.   The  camera  obscura 
would  reveal  the  image,  and  then  they  would  draw  lines  upon  it." 
They  did  have  accurate  lenses. 

Teiser:   Didn't  landscape  painters  have  a  little  gadget  they  carried? 

Adams:    The  Claude  Lorrain  glass,  a  reflective  device  that  enhanced  color 
relationships.   I  really  don't  know  what  it  did.   We  use  a  viewing 
filter  today  which  changes  the  colors,  or  rather  neutralizes  colors — 
makes  what  you  see  look  more  like  what  the  panchromatic  plate  sees 
without  a  filter.   But  the  Claude  Lorrain  glass  was  both  a  trans 
mission  and  a  reflecting  glass,  I  think.   It  would  reflect  and  see 
simplicities;  a  lot  of  detail  would  be  gone.   They'd  just  see  mass 
and  body,  and  they'd  get  their  composition  quicker.   But  that  was 
for  a  certain  type  of  painter.   You  see,  Giotto  did  not  have 
perspective.   Everything  was  flat,  you  remember,  and  perspective  was 
sometimes  implied  by  a  change  of  scale,  but  the  idea  of  drawing 
converging  lines  was  a  later  development. 


Teiser:   But  in  photography  you  can't  escape  it. 

Adams:    You  can't,  no.   Perspective  is  a  function  of  distance  of  lens,  and  if 
I  have  a  20- inch  lens  on  a  camera  right  here,  that  door  is  going  to 
be  very  big  and  the  angle  is  very  small.   If  I  put  on  a  5-inch  lens, 
the  angle  is  going  to  be  larger,  but  the  perspective  will  be  the  same. 
Of  course,  in  the  large-image  picture  I  don't  get  the  impression  of  a 
deep  perspective  because  I  don't  see  many  converging  lines.   I  only 
see  the  lines  that  converge  towards  the  center  of  the  subject.   So 
long-distance  pictures,  made  with  long  lenses,  always  look  fairly 
flat.   Telephoto  images  are  fairly  two-dimensional. 

We  only  see  about  a  degree  when  we  look  at  something.   We  have 
peripheral  vision  of  about — what  is  it?  Forty  degrees?  Depends  on 
the  individual.   But  when  I'm  looking  at  that  door,  I  can  see  you  and 
I  can  see  this  window.   I'm  only  seeing  the  door  sharp,  and  I'm 
seeing  recognizable  objects  as  far  over  as  the  lamp  there,  because 
what  I'm  doing  is  moving  my  eyes  and  head.   So  I  have  the  illusion 
of  always  observing  a  sharp  image. 

In  one  way  the  eye  is  a  very  poor  instrument  optically,  because 
it  has  a  very  small  field  of  sharp  definition.   But  it  is  also  an 
extremely  sensitive  psychological  instrument.   It  will  pick  up 
something  here  and  interpret  it,  though  you  might  not  see  it  "clearly." 
I  can't  recognize  you  when  I  look  in  there.   I  know  there's  two 
people  there,  but  you  can  make  the  slightest  motion  and  it  will  be 
recorded,  and  I  would  look  at  you.   And  then  I  would  establish  by 
that  the  reality  of  you  and  the  door.   And  I  would  put  the  lens  here, 
and  I'd  get  you  and  the  door,  and  a  strange  thing  happens:   the 
element  of  scale  comes  in,  because  I  have  a  direct  comparison  between 
your  head  and  the  door.   Now,  when  I'm  looking  at  you  I  only  have 
your  head,  and  when  I  look  at  the  door  I  have  the  door  or  part  of  it. 
And  I  adjust  immediately. 

When  you  take  the  photograph,  that's  where  your  scale  comes  in, 
and  the  longer  focal  length  lens  the  more  accurate  the  relative  scale 
becomes.   In  other  words,  you  take  a  very  distant  picture  of  a  peak, 
and  there's  a  pine  tree.   Well,  the  pine  tree  and  the  peak — you  can 
compare  them.   If  you  knew  how  big  the  pine  tree  was,  you'd  know  how 
big  the  peak  would  be.   When  you  come  up  nearer  with  a  short  focal 
length  lens,  you  have  near-far,  the  domination  of  the  near  subject, 
so  it's  entirely  out  of  scale.   That's  one  of  the  magical  things  that 
can  happen  in  photography,  where  you  get  exaggeration  of  the  scale 
and  feeling  of  depth. 

We  were  just  looking  through  the  things  I  did  in  the  Boston 
Museum  of  Egyptian  sculpture.   This  huge  seated  figure  in  the  room, 
and  back  of  it,  down  the  hall  are  little  busts.   Well,  due  to  the 
camera  we  were  using  and  the  film,  I  couldn't  stop  the  lens  down,  so 


Adams:    the  head's  not  diamond  sharp,  but  still  the  figure  was  absolutely 

enormous  because  of  the  reference  to  the  optical  size  of  the  busts  in 
the  distance.   Now,  if  I  can  move  down  through  the  museum  and  out 
across  the  street  and  photograph  the  same  scene  with  a  30-inch  or  a 
40- inch  lens  in  the  same  camera,  then  the  scale  would  be  almost 
relative,  and  the  busts  would  assume  their  true  relative  size. 

Teiser:   TO  continue  that  comparison  with  painting — this  means  that  the 
photographer  is  trapped  by  his  lenses? 

Adams:    He's  trapped  by  optical  considerations.   If  he  uses  the  single 

negative  and  doesn't  make  combination  pictures,  he  is  trapped  by  his 
lens  and  the  camera.   The  key  is  his  focal  length  of  lenses;  he  has 
different  lenses,  and  he  has  adjustments  on  the  camera  to  compensate 
for  focus  and  correcting  for  convergence  within  a  small  range.   The 
basic  thing  in  photography — when  you  take  your  ideal  position,  you 
first  set  your  camera  level.   Of  course,  all  this  is  intuitive. 
You're  out  with  a  tripod  and  you  just  do  that  automatically  before 
you  do  anything  else.   And  then  you  start  moving  around.   But  if  you 
just  put  it  down  carelessly  and  then  you  get  a  picture  of,  say,  the 
ocean  with  a  tilting  horizon — it  simply  shows  that  you  have  not 
thought  of  your  image . 

You  have  the  geometrical  accuracy  to  contend  with,  especially 
with  photography  of  architecture.   If  a  building  is  plumb  vertical, 
then  the  camera  back  must  be  parallel  to  it,  and  if  not  you  get  a 
convergence,  one  way  or  the  other.   The  same  takes  place  in  the  eye, 
but  of  course,  here  again  we  have  the  psychological  controls — the 
eye  "corrects."   If  I  were  doing  a  picture  of  some  architecture,  say 
of  this  room,  and  I  was  using  my  four  by  five  view  camera,  I  would 
first  get  my  camera  back  absolutely  level  if  I  wanted  to  have  all  of 
these  vertical  and  horizontal  lines  true  and  level.   Then  the  lens 
image  normally  would  be  cut  off  at  the  top,  so  I'd  use  the  rising 
front,  lifting  up  the  lens  (hope  the  lens  has  coverage)  to  include 
more  of  the  room  height.   If  this  is  not  sufficient,  I  must  tilt  the 
camera  up,  and  then  bring  the  back  to  parallel  position.   Then  I 
would  tilt  the  lens  to  correct  the  focus,  and  if  I  focus  on  something 
very  close,  I  might  have  to  tilt  the  lens  further  forward.   I  can 
tilt  the  lens  without  changing  the  "geometry"  of  the  image.   But  the 
instant  I  tilt  the  back  I'm  changing  the  geometry,  although  I  can 
use  the  back  with  nonlinear  subjects  to  correct  the  near-far  focus. 
If  there  aren't  any  straight  lines,  you  are  not  aware  of  convergence. 

Teiser:    It  makes  painting  seem  easy  by  comparison. 

Adams:    Well,  I  don't  think  it  is.   Of  course  in  painting  you  can  place 

elements  as  you  want.   The  thing  is  you're  free,  and  you  get  myriads 
of  impressions  over  time,  and  then  you  organize  them  in  a  creative 
fashion.   But  painting  is  a  synthetic  medium  in  that  sense,  and 
photography  is  analytic.   Some  people  use  multiple  negatives,  double 


Adams:    printing,  and  a  lot  of  contemporary  work  employs  solarization  and 
other  special  techniques.   But  you  still  have  the  optical  image  as 
the  base.   There's  nothing  that  you  can  do  about  that. 

Of  course,  you  can  distort  if  you  want.   Some  people  will 
distort  in  the  enlarger.   But  the  word  "distort"  is  a  negative  term. 
I  mean  sometimes  we  use  tilts  in  the  enlarger  to  correct  for  distor 
tion  in  the  negative  that  we  couldn't  correct  in  the  camera.   If  we 
have  a  slight  convergence  we  can  tilt  our  base  board  in  the  enlarger 
and  correct  that  convergence.   But  if  we  over-retouch  or  manipulate 
the  negative,  the  dividing  line  between  good  taste  and  bad  may  be 
quite  apparent.   But  again,  who  can  really  define  good  taste? 

Teiser:   Well,  when  you  look  at  the  photographs  of  a  man  like  Weegee* — 

Adams:    Well,  Weegee  was  a  great  clown.   Weegee  was  an  extraordinary  person. 
He  really  was  a  clown,  and  his  aesthetic  sense  as  we  think  of 
aesthetics  was  practically  zero.   He  had  an  uncanny  news  sense.   He 
had  second-sight,  premonition.   He'd  actually  be  at  a  place  waiting 
for  an  accident  to  happen,  and  it  would  I   Fantastic.   And  then  later 
on  he  started  using  these  distorting  devices,  and  it  all  ended  up 
being  I  don't  think  of  any  importance  whatsoever.   His  really  great 
pictures  are  the  news  pictures  he  had  of  tragic  events.   The  fire 
in  Harlem  is  one,  and  the  one  of  the  two  dowagers  leaving  or  going 
to  the  opera  is  one  of  the  great  satirical  photographs. 

Teiser:   That's  distortion  of  one  kind. 

The  Photogram 

Teiser:   Did  Moholy-Nagy  use  distortion,  or  did  he — ? 

Adams:    I  .don't  know.   He  might  have  used  devices,  but  to  my  knowledge  he 
didn't.   In  addition  to  his  camera  he  worked  with  what  is  known  as 
a  "photogram,"  which  doesn't  use  a  lens;  it's  a  shadowgram.   In 
other  words,  he  takes  sensitive  paper  or  film  and  he  puts  things  on 
it  or  over  it.   Some  things  may  be  solid,  others  translucent;  some 
things  intensify  light,  and  some  things  just  cast  shadow.  You 
perhaps  expose  for  a  short  moment,  and  then  you  rearrange  these 
objects  and  make  another  exposure.   What  he's  doing  is  getting  a 
quasi-abstract  image  without  reference,  you  see,  to  the  optical 
image.   Now,  it  would  be  possible  to  combine  them,  so  you  can't  be 
rigid  about  it.   Pirkle  Jones  did  some  perfectly  beautiful  things. 

*Weegee  was  the  professional  name  of  Arthur  Fellig. 


Adams:    I  think  he  used  honey  and  objects  on  it.   Honey  would  float  over  the 
paper  or  flow  between  paper  and  glass  and  leave  these  beautiful 
patterns.   And  they  were  of  very  fine  tonal  quality.  Moholy-Nagy's 
were  usually  very  careless  in  this  respect,  very  unspotted  and  blown 
up  big,  and  then  he  would  claim  that  they  were  "constructions."  But 
I  don't  think  they  were.   I  always  used  to  say,  "Well,  if  you  want 
to  do  that,  why  don't  you  draw?  Why  don't  you  do  what  Kepes  did  or 
Herbert  Bayer  or  a  lot  of  people  did,  really?  Draw  your  quasi- 
abstractions."  But  then  he'll  show  you  something  where  you  get  a 
translucent  glow  or  reflections,  say,  through  a  glass  sphere — you 
can't  draw  that,  you  see.   So,  I  think  the  photogram  isn't  really 
photography,  it  just  uses  photo-sensitive  material,  but  with 
beautiful  results. 

There  was  a  woman  here  that  died,  Margaret  Valeceritos,  who 
would  make  a  negative,  and  then  she'd  put  it  under  hot  water,  and  the 
gelatin  would  melt  and  flow,  and  she'd  get  very  weird  and  lovely 
things .   Then  they  came  out  with  the  new  synthetic  emulsions  and 
they  won't  melt,  so  she  was  frantic;  she  couldn't  follow  her  career 
in  that  direction!  [Laughter]   I  guess  that's  life,  you  know. 

Nuclear  Bombs  and  Photographic  Materials 

Adams:    If  nuclear  explosives  were  fired  in  the  atmosphere,  photography 

would  be  in  a  spot.   That  would  be  the  end  of  it.   I  mean  one  little 
nuclear  device  in  Lake  Ontario  and  Kodak  would  be  out  of  the  picture, 
because  you  couldn't  avoid  the  radiation  specks  in  the  sensitive 
materials.   And  to  get  a  clear  sky  would  be  practically  impossible. 
So  we're  keeping  our  fingers  crossed.   Peace  at  any  price! 

Teiser:   Have  there  been  any  effects  on  photography  of  the  Nevada  blasts? 

Adams:    Oh  yes.   The  big  one  that  got  away  from  them  sent  a  hot  cloud  east 
over  Utah,  and  everybody  had  to  go  indoors  at  St.  George.   It  hit  a 
Union  Pacific  freight  train  on  its  way  to  Los  Angeles.   There  was  a 
whole  car  of  Eastman  film  with  a  lot  of  x-ray  film.   Our  doctor  in 
Yosemite  called  me  up  one  morning  and  said,  "I'm  stuck;  I'm  having 
a  terrible  time.   Can  you  come  and  look  and  see  if  you  can  figure  out 
what's  happening?"   I  came  to  the  hospital  and,  gee,  there  were  these 
awful-looking  spots  on  the  film.   So  I  said,  "Let's  take  one  out  of 
the  box  and  develop  it."  It  had  the  same  defects.   Then  I  looked  at 
it,  and  then  I  knew  what  it  was  because  I'd  read  about  it.   The  ray 
striking  the  film  is  so  powerful  it  desensitizes  it,  so  there's  just 
a  little  transparent  hole  burnt  in  the  emulsion — a  bullet  hole  like 
my  Black  Sun  picture.   And  then  the  energy  is  dispersed  sideways  so 
there's  a  halo.   It  looks  like  a  doughnut,  with  a  kind  of  hazy  outer 


Adams:    edge.   And  the  more  powerful  it  is,  the  bigger  the  doughnut,  and 
those  were  all  over  the  film.   The  ray  went  right  through  the 
packing,  and — probably  penetrated  that  without  restraint,  until  it 
hit  the  foil,  then  it  was  scattered  and  activated,  and  turned  from 
one  level  of  energy  to  another,  which  then  affected  the  film. 

Then  that  same  cloud  affected  cornfields  in  the  Midwest,  where 
there's  some  factories  that  make  cartons  out  of  cornhusks.  A  lot  of 
the  crude  paper  that  you  see  has  everything,  including  cornhusks,  in 
it.   The  Kodak  yellow  boxes  for  film — a  lot  of  them  are  made  of  that, 
and  some  of  that  stuff  was  radioactive.   DuPont  had  to  close  their 
plant  for  a  week,  cut  off  all  their  air  conditioning.   Kodak  had  self- 
internal  cycling,  and  they  could  go  ahead.   Of  course,  long  before 
the  time  the  cloud  got  to  Rochester  it  was  so  weak  there  was  no 
danger  to  humans,  but  nevertheless,  there  could  be  some  ruined  film 
and  paper,  and  it  got  a  little  hairy  for  a  while.   So  if  you  had  one 
big  nuclear  explosion,  you'd  have  very  serious  trouble — although  it 
might  not  be  affecting  you  physically  at  all.   We  apparently  can 
take  a  lot  of  radiation;  we  have  background  radiation  to  contend  with 
constantly.   I've  seen  the  white  flashes,  the  cosmic  ray  flashes  the 
astronauts  write  about.   I've  seen  that  a  lot.   People  always  say, 
"Well,  that's  just  a  capillary  bursting  in  the  retina  or  in  the  brain. 
That  happens  to  everybody."  Now  it's  figured  out  that  it's  cosmic 
ray  impact  on  the  optic  nerve  or  back  in  those  receptors.   Just  a 
flash.   You  close  your  eyes  and  you  see  it  when  at  high  altitudes. 

Nature  Photographs;   Points  of  View 

Teiser:   We  were  talking  about  the  use  of  photography  in  conservation  in 

general,  in  maintaining  a  decent  world.   I  guess  it  had  better  be 
used  in  its  own  self-defense  too,  hadn't  it? 

Adams:    Oh  yes.   That's  important.   Well,  the  full  use  of  photography,  I 

believe,  has  to  have  some  kind  of  a  project,  whether  it's  a  business 
one  or  a  social  one  or  just  a  personal  series  of  photographs  to 
express  what  you  think — I  mean,  a  reason  for  doing  it.   Not  just  go 
out  and  go  "bang,  bang,  bang"  and  hope  you  find  something  you  can 

In  the  conservation  world,  [This  isl  the  American  Earth  was  a  rathe 
heroic  thing,  one  of  the  first  books  on  the  conservation  theme.   And 
there  we  brought  in  the  human  theme  as  well  as  the  natural.   The 
implication  of  the  beauty  of  nature  that's  needed  in  a  world  so  that 
you  want  to  continue  to  live  in  it.   But  now  you  find  people  who  are 
doing  just  countless  pictures  of  natural  details  and  birds  and  bugs 
and  sunsets  without  the  human  connection.   And  what  it  does  is  to 


Adams:    give  a  lot  of  people  who  know  about  it  a  certain  happy  confirmation — 
"that's  what  I  like  too"  feeling,  you  know.   And  the  ghetto  people 
and  the  unfortunate  classes  and  groups,  they  can't  possibly  understand 
it.   And  there's  a  big  resentment  coming  now  among  the  poor  of  the 
country  and  the  racist  groups — a  resentment  against  spending  all  this 
money  on  wilderness,  which  to  them  is  just  pampering  thousands  of 
acres  of  nothing,  when  that  same  money  should  be  going  into  housing 
and  better  education.   They  have  something  very  important  there, 
from  the  human  point  of  view.   They  feel  that  politically  or 
tactically,  I  guess,  the  approaches  aren't  making  for  a  balance.   So 
for  every  ten  million  that  is  put  into  a  national  park  or  wilderness 
area,  there  should  be  an  equivalent  amount  that's  put  into  education 
and  human  welfare.   But  then  the  whole  thing  becomes  totally 
ridiculous  when  you  think  they're  spending  enough  money  every  day 
of  the  [Vietnam]  war  to  establish  a  national  park,  or  clean  out  a 
ghetto.   Then  you  have  this  conflict  all  the  time  between  the  people 
who  had  an  early  experience  and  were  conditioned  to  certain  things 
relating  to  nature,  and  the  people  who  were  raised  in  cities. 

We  had  a  group  of  underprivileged  children  up  at  Yosemite,  and 
the  kids  became  terrified  and  had  to  go  home  a  couple  of  days  before 
they'd  planned.   They  were  away  from  other  people,  and  all  these  big 
things  just  scared  them.   So  that's  another  subject,  and  a  very 
profound  one,  in  a  way. 

[End  Tape  3,  Side  2] 
[Begin  Tape  A,  Side  1] 
Adams:    Where  were  we  now? 

Teiser:  I  was  about  to  say  that  I  was  interested  in  the  fact  that  you  used 
one  of  your  earliest  sets  of  photographs  of  the  Kings  River  Canyon 
in  the  interests  of  conservation  and  took  them  into  Washington — 

Adams:    Oh  yes,  I  used — 

Teiser:   Could  you  tell  about  that  episode? 

Adams:    Well,  I'd  had  a  tremendous  collection  of  pictures  of  the  Sierra 

Nevada  that  appeared  in  various  Sierra  Club  things — in  the  John  Muir 
Trail  book* — and  I  made  some  enlargements  for  display  for  congressmen. 
So  the  work  was  chosen  because — well,  put  it  this  way:  there  were 
thousands,  maybe  millions,  of  pictures  made,  but  I  came  along  with  a 
creative  interpretation  which  got  over.   And  Cedric  Wright's  work 
does  the  same  thing.   Quite  a  number  of  young  photographers  now  do 

*Sierra  Nevada:   The  John  Muir  Trail.   Berkeley:   The  Archtype  Press, 


Adams:    very  beautiful  work  in  the  wilderness — in  the  mountains — which  is 

much  more  than  factual.   And  you  could  take,  say,  all  of  Joe  Le  Conte's 
pictures  of  the  High  Sierra,  which  are  very  valuable  historically,  and 
they'd  have  little  impact;  they'd  just  be  pictures  of  places  and 
nobody  would  be  moved.  Well,  he  didn't  intend  that  they  should  be 
"moved."  It's  no  criticism  of  him;  he  was  a  mechanical  engineer  and 
a  scientist.   So,  his  photographs  were  nil  as  interpretations;  they 
were  invaluable  records  of  places  that  he  had  explored  and  mapped. 
The  Sierra  Nevada  meant  tremendous  things  to  him.   But  the  element  of 
art  interpretation  just  simply  didn't  interest  him. 

Teiser:   I  was  looking  at  Helen  Le  Conte's  copies  of  the  Sierra  Club  Bulletin. 
at  your  earliest  photographs  and  those  of  a  variety  of  other  people, 
and  the  distinction  between  why  you  were  taking  them  and  why  they 
were  taking  them  is  apparent. 

Adams:    Well,  it's  a  different  point  of  view.   But  you  see,  that's  the 

meaning  of  "photography  is  a  language."  Take  the  English  language, 
and  you  can  use  it  for  classified  ads  and  scientific  papers  and  news 
reporting  and  poems  and  essays,  all  forms  using  the  same  language. 
So  when  you  say  Joe  Le  Conte's  pictures  aren't  any  good  because  they're 
not  creative,  you  are  wrong.   What  you  mean  is  that  they  don't  stir  you 
emotionally  and  aesthetically,  but  that  wasn't  their  function.   Their 
great  importance  is  as  records. 

One  of  the  great  problems  we  have  in  our  Friends  of  Photography: 
our  charter  reads  that  we  are  to  further  creative  photography.   Well 
now  somebody  comes  in  who's  been  over  to  Africa,  and  they've  got  a 
lot  of  pictures  of  wildlife,  and  he  thinks  they're  just  something 
wonderful,  and  he's  a  member,  and  he  wants  to  show  his  pictures. 
Sometimes  you  can  tell  him  why  you  can't  show  them — but  other  times 
you  can't.   Some  people  just  simply  can't  understand.   They  never  go 
beyond  the  subject.   Here  they  have  an  elephant,  and  it's  a  fairly 
good  shot  of  an  elephant.   But  you  know,  you  say,  "Well,  that's  an 
elephant"  [laughs],  but  period!   And  a  lot  of  people  just  have  no 
idea  what  you're  talking  about  when  you  try  to  explain  that  you  see 
it  at  a  very  low  level  of  imagination  and  a  high  level  of  factual 

Well,  let's  see — we  have  skipped  around. 

Teiser:   Everything  you've  discussed  brings  up  more — 
Adams:    Well,  that's  fine — 
Teiser:   — questions  and  thoughts. 


Quality  Levels  and  Portraits 

Teiser:   Maybe  this  is  the  stupidest  question  in  the  world,  but  I'll  ask  it 

anyway  if  I  may:   when  you  first  started  taking  photographs  seriously, 
who  did  you  think  was  going  to  look  at  them? 

Adams:    That's  a  very  good  question.   I  don't  know.   I  must  have  had  an  ego, 
because  I  made  a  holy  pest  out  of  myself,  wanting  to  show  everybody 
the  pictures.   So  it  might  have  been  an  ego  motive  there.   I  figure 
that  a  lot  of  artists  may  have  that;  maybe  I  still  have  it.   I  think 
it  was  largely  to  show  where  I'd  been.   And  then  there's  always  the 
competition  among  photographers:   you  like  to  show  them  what  you're 
doing,  and  they  like  to  show  you  what  they're  doing. 

Imogen  Cunningham — she's  quite  an  extraordinary  person,  very 
comprehensive;  her  world  is  a  very  rich  one,  and  a  very  uneven  one. 
In  other  words,  her  technique  would  fluctuate — good  and  bad  prints, 
variable,  creative.   Intensity  will  do  that.   But  when  you  stop  to 
think  of  other  people,  practically  all  do  that.   Stieglitz  was  highly 
selective,  and  he  threw  away  many  things,  so  that  he  probably  had 
what  appeared  to  be  a  rather  low  volume  of  work.   But  you  don't  know 
how  many  bumps  and  holes  there  are  in  any  career.   And  Strand  was  the 
same  way;  he  was  very  selective.   Weston  wasn't.   It's  difficult  to 
not  edit  Weston.   [Richard,  known  as  Dick]  McGraw  over  here  has  about 
eight  hundred  prints  (made  under  Weston' s  supervision  by  his  sons 
Brett  and  Cole)  which  he's  giving  to  [the  University  of  California  at] 
Santa  Cruz.   And  he  admits  himself  that  there's  two  hundred  in  there 
that  are  poor  photographs,  but  he  feels  he  should  show  the  whole  work. 
Well,  I  have  27,000  negatives  at  least  in  that  vault  right  over  there, 
and  some  are  pure  junk.   I  don't  know  why  I'm  keeping  them.   Some  have 
great  historic  value  because  they  were  taken  in  Yosemite — and  no  other 
value  at  all.   Others  have  narrative  value,  such  as  could  be  used  as 
illustrations  or  even  advertisements.   And  then  a  certain  small 
percentage  have  aesthetic  or  creative  value,  which  means  it's  the 
work  you  really  should  present  to  the  world. 

So  it's  "operation  wheelchair"  as  I  call  it.   It  means  getting  in 
and  printing  and  trying  to  make  the  segregation,  because  otherwise  it's 
going  to  be  an  awful  job  for  my  estate.   Because  things  aren't  really 
defined  very  well.   The  dating  is  hopeless — and  even  the  titling. 
I  have  portraits  of  Thomas  Moran,  Ina  Coolbrith,  a  fair  one  of 
Robinson  Jeffers,  Albert  Bender,  Edward  Weston,  Fujita,  Phyllis 
Bottome,  Bennie  Bufano.   And  some  of  them  are  very  good  photographs. 
A  few  others  are  no  good  at  all.   The  one  of  Moran  is  one  of  the  old 
glass  plates,  completely  fouled  up  by  over-exposure  and  over -developed. 
His  white  beard  is  just  a  glob,  and  there's  nothing  in  the  shadow 
areas  of  the  negative.   But  that  and  the  Ina  Coolbrith  picture  have  a 
certain  aesthetic  quality.   So  if  you  take  those  two  and  put  them 
together — early  1920s,  you  see — they  suddenly  spring  into  something 



Teiser ; 





Adams : 


out  of  logical  life.   And  if  you  suddenly  find  those  in  a  contemporary 
collection,  you  don't  know  what's  happening.   It's  like  finding  a 
baby  nipple  along  with  a  martini  shaker.  [Laughter]   It'd  be  quite  a 

I  suppose  everything  has  to  be  taken  in  context.   Those  portraits 
that  you  were  listing  then,  and  some  others  I  remember,  I  have  them 
in  my  mind.   I  was  looking  recently  again  at  the  one  that  you  made  of 
Carolyn  Anspacher  years  ago — that  seems  to  me  a  portrait  that  stops 
one  person  in  time.   Although  I've  seen  her  since,  that's  my  idea  of 

Yes,  that's  one  of  my  best  things.   A  very  noble  one  of  [Gottardo] 
Piazzoni — the  painter  on  his  scaffold.   That's  one  of  my  finest. 

You  don't  think  of  yourself,  I  suppose,  as  a  portrait  photographer. 
But  as  I  think  of  them — the  one  of  Albert  Bender — 

With  the  flower? 

Well,  I'm  not  a  portraitist  in  the  sense  that  I  don't  have  a  portrait 
studio  and  haven't  done  portraits  professionally — 

Did  you  do  those  mainly  because  they  were  friends? 

Part  of  it,  yes.   I  just  wanted  to  photograph  them.   Let's  see — 
Colonel  [Charles  Erskine  Scott]  Wood,  Sara  Bard  Field,  Ernst  Bacon. 
Sometimes  people  have  asked  for  pictures.   I  did  a  recent  one  of 
Sandor  Salgo — the  conductor  here — a  Hungarian.   They  wanted  me  to 
make  a  donation  to  the  [Cannel]  Bach  Festival,  and  so  I  donated  the 
portrait.   And  it  came  out  quite  beautifully.   And  that's  the  way 
these  things  emerge.   But  I  mean  I  never  had  a  portrait  studio  as 
such,  because  I  couldn't  imagine  anything  more  difficult  or  uncertain 
than  trying  to  do  portraits  of  random  people.   You  don't  have  a 
chance  to  know  them.   I  don't  want  to  be  the  Bachrach  of  the  Monterey 
Peninsula.  [Laughter] 

Edward  [Weston]  made  his  living  largely  with  portraits, 
were  very  effective.   But  I  don't  think  it  was  his  best  work. 
his  picture  of  Albert  Bender  is  superb. 

I  don't  remember  that. 

Well,  that's  a  good  human  image,  but  not  a  great  photograph. 



Albert  Bender 

Teiser:   You  were  going  to  speak  about  Albert  Bender. 

Adams:    That's  very  complicated.   I  met  him  first  at  Cedric  Wright's  home 
in  Berkeley.   Let's  see,  it  was  a  musical  evening,  but  Cedric  said, 
"Show  Albert  Bender  some  of  your  mountain  pictures."  Albert  was  very 
much  impressed  and  said,  "Come  and  see  me  tomorrow  morning,  and  bring 
some  prints."  Well,  I  showed  him  some  work  and  he  said,  "We  have  to 
do  a  portfolio  of  these."  It  was  the  furthest  from  my  thoughts.   I 
was  still  trying  to  be  a  pianist.   So  I  said,  "Let  me  think  about  it." 

In  two  or  three  days  I  went  down  there  again  in  the  morning  with 
a  big  bunch.   He  selected  a  number  and  he  said,  "Grabhorn  will  print 
it.   And  Jean  Chambers  Moore  says  she'll  publish  it,  and  now  we've 
got  to  sell  some  copies.   So — how  much  is  it  going  to  cost?"  So  we 
had  to  figure  that  out,  and  it  cost  quite  a  little,  as  all  such 
things  do.   I  never  counted  my  work  in  it;  that's  the  way  you  do 
these  things.   So  he  started  off  with  five  copies.   Now,  they  were 
one  hundred  dollars  apiece,  I  think,  which  was  high  for  those  days. 

Then  he  calls  up  Mrs.  [Sigmund]  Stern.   "Top  of  the  morning, 
Rosie.   How  are  you?  Well,  I've  got  a  man  in  my  office,  and  he's 
got  some  pictures  and  we're  going  to  do  a  portfolio,  and  starting  it 
off,"  he  says,  "I'm  taking  five  hundred  dollars." 

She  says,  "Well,  Albert,  put  me  down  for  $750."  "Thanks,  Rosie, 
that's  fine."  Then  he  calls  Cora  [Mrs.  Marcus]  Koshland.   "Top  of 
the  morning  to  you,  Cora."  Describes  what  he's  going  to  do  with  the 
portfolio — "I've  put  in  five  hundred  dollars  and  Rosie  put  in  $750" — 
Rosalie — and  she  says,  "Put  me  down  for  five  hundred  dollars,  Albert. 
I'd  like  to  have  the  work."  And  in  just  about  two  hours'  time  on  the 
telephone,  he'd  sold  much  more  than  the  cost  of  the  portfolio.* 

He  wasn't  a  rich  man;  he  was  well-to-do.   He  had  a  good 
insurance  business.   And  of  course  he  was  a  bachelor.   And  he  just 
gave  away  a  tremendous  amount  of  things  and  money.   But  mostly  in 
small  parcels.   He  never  gave  really  large  amounts — he  didn't  have  it. 
But  some  artist  would  come  and  show  him  some  pictures,  and  Albert 
would  buy  one,  give  him  a  hundred-dollar  check  and  spend  an  hour  or 
so  on  the  telephone  getting  contacts  for  him.   It  was  that  kind  of 
true  philanthropy.   I  mean,  he  just  didn't  write  checks,  he  really 
helped  people.  He  was  the  most  generous  man,  by  fifty  times,  of 
anybody  else  I've  ever  known. 

*Parmelian  Prints  of  the  High  Sierras.   San  Francisco:   Jean 
Chambers  Moore,  1927.   See  also  other  references  as  indexed. 


Adams:    So  it  was  this  kind  of  patronage  that  really  got  me  started.   And 

even  during  the  Depression  times,  there  was  always  something  to  do. 
I  did  a  catalogue  for  the  de  Young  Memorial  Museum.   Bender  had  a 
group  of  very  handsome  Chinese  carvings,  and  we  made  a  portfolio  of 
that  for  Mills  College.   I  don't  remember  the  circumstances,  but  I 
think  there  were  ten  or  twenty  images  in  each  set  and  they  sold  for 
several  hundred  dollars  apiece,  and  the  proceeds  then  enabled  him  to 
buy  these  marbles  for  the  college.   So,  many  things  were  done  on  that 
basis:   I'd  get  a  fee  for  the  job,  then  he  would  sell  four  or  five 
copies,  and  the  difference  would  allow  things  to  happen. 


Teiser:   Those  were  the  first  photographs  on  specific  commissions? 

Adams:    Some,  yes.   Now,  I  did  the  Maurice  Sterne  paintings  for  the  Department 
of  Justice  Building.   He  painted  them  in  San  Francisco,  and  I  did 
them  at  his  studio  at  the  California  School  of  Fine  Arts.   It  was 
terribly  hard  getting  even  light  on  them  because  they  were  very  big. 
And  I  have  a  beautiful  portfolio  of  that.   I  did  Coloramas  for  Kodak 
[i.e.,  Eastman] — big  things  to  be  shown  in  Grand  Central  Station. 
And  I  did — let's  see,  Fortune  magazine,  general  advertising  commissions, 
and  then  worked  for  the  Yosemite  people.   Later  on,  projects  would  come 
up  like  Timber  Cove.   And  I  did  a  whole  series  of  pictures  of  Laguna 
Niguel.   They  said  they  wanted  to  have  these  pictures  to  guide  the 
development.   They  absolutely  ruined  the  place;  it  didn't  guide  the 
development  at  all I 

Then  I  did  an  enormous  series  of  pictures  for  the  University  of 
California  of  the  Santa  Cruz  campus  before  there  was  anything 
developed  there.   And  that  was  very  valuable  because  the  architects 
could  see  what  certain  areas  on  the  map  looked  like. 

Teiser:   I  wonder  if  those  photographs  didn't  have  something  to  do  with  setting 
the  tone  of  that  whole  campus  as  it  is  now? 

Adams:    Well,  put  it  this  way:   it's  only  half  what  we  wanted.   The  architec 
ture  is,  I  think,  sad.   Better  if  it  had  been  something  like  Foothill 
College.   They  should  have  really  gone  to  the  Maybeck  feeling,  where 
you'd  have  a  blending  of  the  buildings  and  of  the  out-of-doors.   But 
Crown  College  is  like  a  suburban  housing  project.   Stevenson  College 
looks  like  pictures  I've  seen  of  "British  Bauhaus."  Very  tight 
little  buildings.   I  don't  know  any  one  that  really  is  appropriate. 
And  College  Five  is  done  by  Hugh  Stubbins  who  lives  in  New  York. 
It's  just  hideous.   I  mean  it's  an  imposition  right  on  the  landscape. 
Here's  one  of  the  grandest  groves  of  redwoods  standing  alone  anywhere, 
and  there's  absolutely  no  consideration  for  it.   They  crowded  it  with 
a  wall.   It's  really  "brutalesque." 


Teiser : 
Adams : 


I  think  I  was  speaking  not  alone  of  the  physical  development  of  the 
buildings  but  of  the  whole  spirit  of  the  campus. 

Adams : 

Yes,  that  was  the  idea, 
in  the  main. 

We  tried  to  keep  the  meadows,  and  succeeded 

The  students  have  seen  those  photographs,  haven't  they? 

Oh  yes.   I  have  students  calling  me  up  and  wanting  me  to  protest 
against  something  that's  going  in. 

Tommy  [Thomas  D.]  Church  and  I  did  the  definitive  paper  on 
style — the  photographs  were  part  of  that — what  the  University  could 
represent  in  terms  of  style  in  relation  to  the  natural  environment. 
And  I  just  got  a  letter  the  other  day  saying  that  was  still  the 
guiding  light — although  sometimes  it  was  very  difficult.   This 
present  hideous  [state]  administration  is  really  very  negative  to 
that  college  idea.   They  want  a  college  right  in  the  middle  of  the 
city  in  one  unit.   They  think  Santa  Cruz  is  very  "extravagant." 
Well,  I  don't  think  it  has  cost  any  more,  and  it  certainly  has  a 
tremendous  effect  on  students.   But  the  plans — you  can't  afford  to 
have  the  expensive  plans.   So  they're  allowed  so  much  square  foot 
cost,  and  the  architects  have  an  awful  job  getting  these  things  to 

Now,  these  bedrooms  in  Stevenson  College  are  the  worst  planned 
things  you've  ever  seen.   I  mean,  you  can  hardly  get  into  the  closet 
door,  around  the  bed,  because  it's  so  small.   One  foot  more,  but — 
They  planned  a  little  lintel  over  the  entrance  doorway;  it  had  to 
come  out.   They  had  some  decoration,  molding;  that  had  to  come  out. 
The  Finance  Committee  of  the  Legislature,  or  State  Senate,  just 
slashes  the  "amenities"  out.   They  have  no  architectural  advisors 
on  what  can  stay  or  go.   So  instead  of  having  that  little  extra 
something  for  style,  it's  up  to  the  architect  to  do  what  they  did 
at  the  Bodega  Marine  Laboratory;  the  building  is  of  prestressed 
concrete,  molded  into  beautiful  designs.   The  building  is  a  very 
attractive  thing  although  it's  nothing  but  big  columns  of  concrete. 
But  of  course,  they  could  afford  to  mold  them  into  agreeable  shapes, 
if  no  ornament  was  added. 

I  did  a  book  on  the  University  of  Rochester. 
What  was  that? 

A  book  on  the  university  called  Creative  Change;  it's  a  brochure. 
And  then  I  did  a  book  for  the  Bishop  National  Bank  of  Hawaii,  The 
Islands  of  Hawaii;  did  that  one  after  the  one  for  the  American 
Trust  Company.   You  remember  that  book — The  Pageant  of  History  in 
Northern  California.  "Well,  then  the  Bishop  Bank  wanted  me  to  do 
the  Hawaiian  one. 


Adams:    Then  I  did  some  work  for  IBM — 
Teiser:   What  sort  of  work  for  IBM? 

Adams:    Oh,  I  just  made  a  series  to  interpret  the  activities  at  the 

Poughkeepsie  plant.   It's  a  very  ugly,  modern,  beautifully  functional 
plant,  and  some  of  the  things  in  it  are  very  exciting.   That  picture 
on  the  wall,  of  the  transistor,  is  one;  it's  all  out-dated  now.   It's 
a  computer  world.   So  I  got  by  fine  there. 

Then  of  course  the  big  centennial  project  for  the  University  of 
California  with  Nancy  Newhall  [Fiat  Lux] ,  and  I'm  sure  I  can  think  up 
other  things  as  I  go  along. 

Albert  Bender  and  His  Friends 

Teiser:   Let's  go  back  to  Albert  Bender.   We  were  interested  in  Mrs.  Newhall 's 
description  in  The  Eloquent  Light  of  your  first  trip  to  New  Mexico 
with  him.   And  who  was  Bertha  Damon? 

Adams:    Well,  Bertha  Clark,  who  married  Arthur  Pope.   She  was  quite  a 

literary  person,  a  very  fine  writer,  and  a  great  friend  of  Witter 
Bynner  and  Arthur  Davidson  Ficke.  So  we  all  went  down  there,  you 
see,  and  met  Ella  Young.  Of  course,  she  and  Bender  always  hit  it 
off  in  fine  form,  because  I  think  they  had  worked  together  in  the 
University  of  California  at  Berkeley  before  World  War  I.  Let's  see, 
she's  about  eighty  now. 

Teiser:   This  trip  was  in  1927,  wasn't  it? 

Adams:    Yes.   We  met  Ella  Young  and  Marie  Welch.   And  then  Bertha  and 

Arthur  Pope  separated,  and  he  married  Phyllis  Ackerman — the  authority 
on  textiles — and  she  married  Professor  Damon  of  Brown  University  and 
lived  in  the  East,  and  apparently  did  very  well  in  real  estate, 
developed  areas  with  style.   She  did  that  earlier  at  Point  Richmond 
out  here.   Beautiful  houses.   She's  still  living,  and  she's  a  good 
friend  of  Ernst  Bacon  who's  here  now,  staying  with  us.   (He  lives  in 

So  then  we  met  Mary  Austin,  too,  down  there. 

Teiser:   Oh  yes.   That  brings  up  another  subject,  but  let's  stick  with 
Albert  Bender. 

Adams:    I  would  take  Albert — he  didn't  drive — on  innumerable  trips.   We'd 
come  down  here  to  Monterey  and  Carmel  every  so  often,  and  see  all 


Adams:    the  friends — Robinson  Jeffers  and  Johnny  O'Shea  and  Kriley — a  kind 
of  a  circuit.   Albert  liked  nature,  as  a  Christmas  tree  with  human 
ornaments  on  it.   He  didn't  care  much  for  the  natural  scene;  he  just 
liked  fresh  air  and  people,  which  is  wonderful. 

Then  we'd  go  over  often  to  Mills  College  with  the  back  of  the 
car  laden  with  books  and  things,  maybe  some  Chinese  things  he'd 
gotten.   We  went  to  Yosemite,  and  I  can't  tell  you  how  many  trips 
in  all.   He'd  call  me  up  and  say,  "Well,  Dr.  Adams,  are  you  free 
today?"   Sometimes  I  wasn't,  but  I  would  certainly  make  an  effort 
to  be.   And  we'd  get  in  the  old  car  and  go  out.   Knew  somebody  at 
Napa — writers — and  knew  somebody  at  College  of  the  Pacific  over  in 
Stockton.   We'd  drive  over  and  see  these  people  and  go  and  see 
printers.   And  then  people  would  come.   He'd  entertain.   He  was  a 
great  friend  of  Ruth  St.  Denis.   And  I  remember  we  drove  to  Los 
Angeles  to  hear  the  San  Francisco  Symphony,  and  Ruth  St.  Denis's 
group  danced  with  it,  and  we  took  her  down — she  and  Ted  Shawn.  We 
drove  down  to  Los  Angeles. 

I'll  never  forget  that  day.   We  went  to  an  apartment  for 
dinner — Mrs.  Guggenheim  of  the  Guggenheim  family.   And  this  was  a 
whole  floor  in  one  of  these  Hollywood  buildings,  and  it  was  very 
elaborate — wow!   She  had  gorgeous  things  in  it.   She  said,  "Of 
course,  you'll  leave  your  car  here  and  we'll  go  over  in  mine 
because  it's  so  difficult  parking — and  my  people  can  handle  it  much 
easier."  So  that  was  fine. 

So  after  this  very  elaborate  dinner  we  go  downstairs  and  here's 
a  great  big  Rolls  Royce,  really  custom-made;  everything  you  can 
think  of — a  huge  thing.   And  a  chauffeur  and  a  footman.   So  we  get 
into  this  thing.   Oh,  it  was  beautiful,  and  these  little  cabinets! 
I  said,  "Do  you  drive  this  car  from  New  York  every  year?"   (Because 
she  spent  winters  in  New  York.)   "Oh  no,"  she  said,  "I  have  the 
exact  duplicate  of  it  back  there."  [Laughter]   Albert  Bender  was 
horrified,  shaking  his  head.   He  always  thought  such  great  affluence 
was  rather  silly.   Mrs.  Stern  entertained  beautifully  and  was  always 
doing  something  for  people,  but  very  seldom  if  ever  would  have  just 
a  stupid  social  party.   It  would  be  a  dinner  for  somebody  like  Diego 
Rivera.   And  when  she  put  on  a  dinner,  there  was  probably  none 
better.   Just  great  style. 

And  Albert  Bender  would  have  entertainment,  but  he  didn't 
drink.   He  was  an  Irish  Jew.   His  father  was  a  rabbi  and  his  mother 
was  an  Irish  woman.   And  he  came  over  as  a  boy  and  worked  in  his 
cousin's  insurance  business.   But  he  never  drank — I  don't  know 
whether  he  didn't  like  it  or  why.   But  he  always  had  liquor  in  his 


Adams:    He  had  an  old  lady  housekeeper  who  didn't  know  anything  about  it 
all.   She'd  cook  him  this  disgusting-looking  plate  of  scrambled 
eggs  for  dinner.   He'd  come  home  after  a  big  day  and  there 'd  be 
two  pieces  of  toast  and  scrambled  eggs.   When  he  had  a  dinner,  he'd 
get  somebody  in.   But  he  would  have  parties,  and  she  would  have 
scotch  and  ginger  ale  and  no  ice.   She'd  always  forget  the  ice. 
[Laughter]   So  his  friends  gradually  learned  and  they'd  bring  some 
ice,, you  know,  and  put  it  in  a  bowl.   But  she  knew  so  little,  she 
thought  ginger  ale  and  soda  were  the  same!   Of  all  the  horrible 
concoctions  in  the  world,  it  was  that.   So  there  were  these  funny 
little  lapses. 

That  Tibetan  scroll  was  his — he  eventually  left  that  to  us. 
Teiser:   Oh,  hanging  there. 
Adams:    Yes,  that's  handsome. 

Teiser:   Very.   He  served  a  function  apparently  in  bringing  artists  of  all 
ages  and  kinds  together. 

Adams:    Yes.   And  he  was  very  important  in  the  creative  printing  world. 

Teiser:   You  said  he  got  the  Grabhorns  to  print  the  text  of  your  first 

Adams:    Yes.   But  when  it  came  to  the  Taos  book  [Taos  Pueblo] ,  he  asked 

Nash  to  do  it,  and  I  had  a  preliminary  talk  with  Nash.*  He  was  going 
to  cover  the  inside  with  Spanish  parchment  sheets.   He  had  a  whole 
lot  of  Spanish  parchment  sheets — music  sheets.   And  I  said,  "Dr. 
Nash,  this  book  has  nothing  to  do  with  Gregorian  music;  this  is 
Indian — Pueblos — Southwest."  And  he  said,  "Pueblo — Pueblo's 
Spanish,  isn't  it?"  [Laughter]   I  went  back  to  Albert  and  I  said, 
"It's  impossible.   He  wants  to  do  something  that's  just  impossible!" 
He  was  an  ass,  I  must  admit — really  stupid.   I  said,  "Can't  we  get 
Grabhorn  to  do  it?"  So  Grabhorn  completed  it,  with  the  paper  all 
made  to  order.   Half  of  it  was  coated  by  Dassonville,  on  which  I 
made  the  prints,  and  the  rest  of  it  went  into  the  text  which 
Grabhorn  printed.   But  Grabhorn  didn't  have  that  big  a  press,  so 
he  printed  the  four-page  sheets  (two  to  a  side)  one  page  at  a  time. 
Hazel  Dreis  was  doing  the  binding,  but  the  columns  did  not  line  up, 
and  they  couldn't  be  bound.   I  mean  if  she  kept  on  folding,  the 
columns  would  tilt  further  and  further  apart.   There  was  no  way  of 
making  the  fold  parallel.  A  very  complicated  thing.   So  that  was  a 
terrible  blow.   We  just  had  enough  paper  left  to  print  it  properly. 

*John  Henry  Nash. 


Adams:    But  Grabhorn*  would  say,  "You're  crazy;  it's  printed  perfectly." 
And  they  were  beautiful  pages  to  look  at! 

Albert  Bender  had  come  to  Grabhorn 's  studio.   And  Hazel  laid 
them  out  and  got  a  ruler  and  a  T-square.   She  said,  "All  right,  now, 
Grabhorn,  is  that  straight  or  isn't  it?"  "Well,  it  is  off,  I  guess. 
Yes.   We'll  have  to  do  it  over."  Well,  what  are  you  going  to  do 
when  you've  got  a  special  run  of  paper?  There  was  just  enough  paper 
to  do  it.   I  don't  think  there  were  six  signatures  left  over.** 

Then  she  wanted  a  special  grain  leather  and  she  just  ordered 
it  and  never  asked  the  price.   It  arrives,  through  customs  from 
Algeria  or  somewhere,  and  there's  $480  due  on  it.   I  didn't  have 
eighty  dollars.   Who  pays  it?  Albert  Bender.   So  I  tried  to  pay 
Albert  back.   I  went  and  worked  and  things,  but  he  was  never — he 
always  said,  "Well,  you  just  do  your  work.   That's  all  the  payment 
I  want."  He  didn't  consider  me  a  business  investment.  [Laughter] 
And  he  was  very,  very  kind.   So  he  did  give  me  the  entree  to  a 
whole  stratum  of  society  and  cultural  level  in  San  Francisco  I 
never  would  have  had  otherwise. 

Cedric  Wright 

Harroun:   You  said  when  you  met  him  at  Cedric  Wright's  that  you  were  still  in 
the  field  of  music? 

Adams:    Yes,  I  was  still  an  active  pianist. 
Harroun:   Was  this  a  turning  point  then? 

Adams:    Well,  yes.   This  was  almost — it  really  was  the  turning  point,  but 
I  didn't  know  it.   I  tried  to  practice  and  keep  up  everything  else 
too  until  1930.   Well,  there's  a  very  hazy  point  there,  because 
even  in  1932  I  was  doing  accompaniments,  and  photography.   And  then 
it  just  came  to  the  point  that  I  couldn't  do  both. 

*By  correspondence: 

Teiser:   When  you  talk  about  Grabhorn,  you  mean  Ed,  don't  you? 

You  didn't  deal  with  Bob  [Robert],  did  you? 

Adams:    Dealings  were  usually  with  Ed,  but  I  knew  Bob  quite 

**See  also  other  references  to  Taos  Pueblo  as  indexed. 


Adams:    Cedric  Wright,  a  violinist,  was  an  old  friend.   He  was  the  son  of 
my  father's  lawyer.  My  father's  lawyer  was  not  very  ethical, 
unfortunately,  but  Cedric  was  one  of  my  dearest  friends.   I  met 
him  first  in  1923  on  a  Sierra  Club  outing,  and  then  we'd  see  him 
often,  and  he  liked  the  way  I  played  and  I  liked  the  way  he  played. 
He  made  some  photographs  too,  and  pretty  soon  he  switched  over, 
because  he  had  a  fairly  large  personal  income.  He  never  had  to  do 
anything,  which  seems  always  a  curse.   I  will  say  he  was  very 
diligent.   But  at  an  ego  level — I  mean  he  just  had  to  do  these 
mountain  pictures.  He  was  very  anxious  always  to  get  them  out  and 
to  get  applause.   He  wasn't  a  very  good  violinist.   His  first  wife 
was  a  much  better  one,  and  I  guess  that's  one  of  the  reasons  why 
they  split,  because  she  was  obviously  a  very  superior  musician. 
He  could  have  been  a  grand  pianist — he  had  great  big  "piano"  hands. 
But,  he  tried  to  get  quality  out  of  his  fiddle,  and  the  intonation 
wouldn't  be  ideal.   But  he  had  a  very  fine  musical  spirit.   I  mean, 
he  could  really  bring  things  to  life,  like  Ernst  Bacon. 

So  that  was  my  friendship  there,  and  then  he  got  into  doing 
more  and  more  portraits;  finally  did  chiefly  portrait  work,  except 
for  his  summer  work  in  the  mountains,  and  he  did  very  well.  And 
then  he  got  older  and  more  difficult  and  married  a  lady  who  really 
didn't  help  too  much  and  had  two  kids  who  were  difficult — one  was 
very  difficult,  the  other  was  all  right.   So  he  developed  high 
blood  pressure  and  had  a  terrible  doctor,  and  they  didn't  take  care 
of  it,  and  he  went  a  little  off  his  bat.   He  had  this  kind  of 
paranoia  about  education  and  public  schools.   He'd  write  reams  of 
expository  texts.   When  he  finished  this  book,  it  was  a  foot  thick. 
I  said,  "Well,  you've  got  to  have  it  edited.  You  can't  print  this." 
I  said,  "Get  Nancy  Newhall  to  do  it."  She  boiled  it  down  to  some 
really  very  good  writing.   But  he  wouldn't  accept  that  at  all.   He 
thought  she  was  missing  all  the  important  points.   I  don't  know 
what's  happened  to  the  text  of  the  thing.   It  had  some  very  fine 
passages  in  it — kind  of  Thoreau-esque.   But  otherwise  just  as 
screwy  as  you  can  get. 

And  then  he  finally  had  a  stroke  and  never  really  recovered. 

Teiser:   Helen  Le  Conte  was  speaking  of  him,  saying  he  was  a  genius  without 
a  field  to  express  it. 

Adams:    Yes,  that's  good.   He  had  the  genius  tendency,  but  he  never 

realized  it.   I  think  music  was  right;  he  was  very  happy  in  it. 
But  he  picked  the  one  instrument  that  his  physique  wasn't  favorable 


Musicians  and  Artists 

Adams:    Now,  in  a  sense  I've  got  a  lovely  violin  hand.  My  fingers  are  very 
strong  and  light — very  small.   But  I'm  a  pianist,  see.   I  could 
never  get  the  power,  the  richness  somebody  like  Ernst  Bacon  can  get, 
or  my  late  friend  Victor  Babin.   I  suppose  I'd  have  been  an  ideal 
harpsichordist.   It's  a  very  important  thing — we  don't  think  of 
those  things  often — but  I  didn't  have  the  ear  for  the  strings.   I 
have  beautiful  relative  pitch  but  absolutely  n£  absolute  pitch. 

Teiser:   I  suppose  it  was  hard  to  break  away  from  the  piano.  People  had 
encouraged  you  in  it. 

Adams:    I  could — I  still  can,  if  you'll  pardon  the  conceit — produce  a  very 
beautiful  tone.   I  was  trained  in  tone  control  and  voicing.   I 
still  amaze  myself  at  times  by  the  sculptural  effect,  which  was  my 
basic  training.   It  was  largely  impact  control,  and  of  course  the 
arthritis  has  knocked  that.   But  it's  interesting  that  there  is  a 
legato  and  there  is  an  impact.   You  can  especially  hear  it  in 
fugues;  I  can  really  make  the  voices  completely  stand  out,  which  is 
much  more  difficult  with  "weight"  playing,  to  give  the  full  color. 
The  impact,  touch — I  had  that,  and  it's  really  stayed  with  me  all 
these  years.   I  mean  I  play  terribly  now — inaccurately — but  it's 
just  interesting  how  lasting  the  training  you  sometimes  get  can  be. 
And  so,  up  to  that  point,  I  could  have  gone  on  and  I  could  have  been 
very  fine  in  a  very  limited  field,  but  when  it  came  to  doing  the 
greater  Beethoven  and  Brahms  and  the  heroic  Scriabin  things,  why — 
my  fingers  couldn't  manage  them. 

Teiser:   Did  you  realize  that?  Was  that  part  of  your  decision? 

Adams:    I  began  to  realize  just  part  of  it.   But  people  encouraged  me  and 
said,  "No,  don't  worry  about  that.   Think  of  Laurie  [Lawrence] 
Strauss."  You  remember  him.   Tenor.   He  sang  French  and  German 
lieder  and  had  a  very  meager  voice,  but  such  style  you  wouldn't 
believe.   You  still  remember  him.   And  the  question  is,  what  is 
music?  This  man  could  create — he  was  simply  wonderful.   It  was 
something  like  [Vladimir]  de  Pachmann.   I  don't  think  de  Pachmann 
ever  played  anything  very  massive  beyond  Chopin.   Farthest  I  got 
with  Scriabin  that  I  could  play  was  the  C-sharp  minor  etude  and 
that  really  taxed  me.   I  really  didn't  have  it  in  my  hands  to  do 

V.  Adams:  [Entering]   How're  you  doing? 
Adams:    Pretty  good  I 



Adams : 

Adams : 


Adams : 


Then  of  course  I  was  very  close  to  Sara  Bard  Field  and  Colonel 
Wood — Charles  Erskine  Scott  Wood. 

How  did  you  meet  them? 

With  Albert — early,  1927  or  '28.   And  of  course  I  met  Bennie  Bufano. 

Did  all  of  these  people  in  the  other  arts  add  to  your  creative 
vision  or  whatever? 

Oh  yes,  very  much.   Very  definitely.   Not  that  I  imitated.  You 
couldn't  do  that  with  them.   But  you  just  had  a  support  of  your 
convictions.   I  mean,  here  are  people  creating  beauty  in  other 
ways — Maynard  Dixon,  Dorothea  Lange,  Robert  Howard,  the  Puccinellis- 
oh  gosh,  I  can't  remember  all  the  people. 

That's  Raymond  Puccinelli? 

Yes.   I  know  very  few  of  the  contemporary  artists. 

Of  these  artists,  I  don't  suppose  you  admired  all  of  their  work? 

No — no.   Some  more  than  others.   Bufano' s  drawings  were  simply 
magnificent;  some  of  his  sculpture  was  pretty  corny.   Sara  Bard 
Field's  poetry  was  better  than  the  Colonel's.   [Ralph]  Stackpole, 
I  think,  is  a  fine  sculptor;  beautiful  massive  work.   Ray  Boynton 
did  an  encaustic  for  the  Woods,  which  was  absolutely  beautiful, 
more  so  than  his  paintings. 

For  the  Woods  at  their  home? 

Their  home.   An  outdoor  mantel.   But  they  had  not  sealed  the  stone 
and  the  water  came  through  and  it  flaked. 

And  Maynard  Dixon  was  a  great  man,  a  character.   (I  don't 
know.   You  can't  really  remember  all  these  things.)   Piazzoni  was 
a  great  stylist;  very  quiet.   I  think  I  like  his  paintings  better 
even  now  than  I  did  then.   They  looked  flat  to  me. 

Did  you  like  some  of  Maynard  Dixon 's  work? 

I  liked  his  drawings  much  better  than  his  paintings, 


Oh,  and  then  another  contact  which  was  very  valuable  to  me 
was  William  Zorach,  the  painter,  and  his  wife,  Marguerite.  We  have 
two  Zorachs  downstairs,  one  by  him,  one  by  his  wife,  watercolors  in 
Yosemite.   He  was  there  one  whole  summer  and  went  on  trips.   He  was 
really  marvelous — a  creative  thinker. 


Adams:    And  then  of  course  Diego  Rivera  and  [Jose  C.]  Orozco.   And  many  of 
the  printers.   [Interruption  to  discuss  a  photograph  with  Adams's 
assistant. ] 

Arnold  Blanch,  the  painter;  Maurice  Sterne. 
Teiser:   Did  you  talk  about  aesthetics  with  these  people? 

Adams:    No.   When  you're  in  the  art  world  you  don't  talk  about  aesthetics; 

you  just  talk.   The  aesthetics  are  a  by-product.   They'll  talk  about 
their  experiences,  they'll  talk  about  their  style.   They'll  see 
something  in  your  photograph  that  they  like.  You  don't  think  about 
it  in  terms  of  aesthetics  as  such,  you  see.   And  it's  interesting, 
when  photographers  get  together  they  talk  about  papers,  lenses, 
chemicals,  cameras — very  seldom  about  the  pictures.  When  painters 
get  together,  they  talk  about  painting — and  very  seldom  about  paints 
or  paint  brushes.   When  musicians  get  together,  they  talk  about 
other  musicians.  [Laughter]   They'll  say,  "Oh  my,  Rosenthal,  you 
know,  he  did  that  Beethoven  all  right.   But  Horowitz — somebody  else — 
Backhaus — "  and  before  you  know  it,  they're  talking  about  "when  I 
was  concertmaster  at  such  and  such." 

You  know  the  famous  story  about  Mischa  Elman,  who  was  talking 
to  this  young  girl  at  a  dinner,  a  beautiful  young  lady,  and  he  was 
describing  all  of  his  career — coming  to  this  country,  and  his  tours. 
He  could  see  she  was  getting  a  little  bit  restless,  so  he  said,  "Oh, 
my  dear,  I'm  so  sorry,  I'm  boring  you.   I'm  talking  about  nothing 
but  myself,  and  that  is  too  much.   Now  let  us  talk  about  you.   How 
did  you  like  my  last  concert?"  [Laughter] 

[End  Tape  4,  Side  1] 
[Begin  Tape  4,  Side  2] 

Adams:    Through  Cedric  I  knew  Richard  Buhlig.   He  was  quite  a  pianist,  but 
he  had  the  most  colossal  conceit  I've  ever  seen.  He  said,  "After 
all,  you  can  count  the  great  pi-ah-nists  of  the  world  on  one  finguh." 

I  met  him  one  time  in  San  Francisco,  and  it  was  a  very  gray, 
foggy  day,  and  he  was  exhausted,  and  I  was  going  to  take  him  on  the 
streetcar  out  to  my  house  for  supper.  He  sat  there  in  the  streetcar 
in  a  very  dejected  way,  so  I  kept  talking.   I  figured  I  just  can't 
sit  there  like  a  dummy  too.   So  I  talked  and  talked  about  the 
symphony  and  other  things. 

So  we  came  home  to  the  house,  and  he  sat  down — in  this  chair — 
and  took  off  his  necktie  and  said,  "Let  us  have  silence,  blessed 
silence.   You  talk  a  very  great  deal  and  say  ab-so-lutely  nothing." 
[Laughter]   So  that  was  a  helpful  influence.   I've  been  thinking 


Adams:    about  that;  always  have,  you  know.   I  just  pattered  along,  trying 
to  keep  him  going — a  gesture. 

Ernst  Bacon  came  on  the  scene  early.   And  Ernst  was  a  very 
fine  pianist — very  well  trained;  great  ladies'  man,  marvelous 
person.   (I  hope  he  can  hear  me.)  And  he  would  play — well,  he  was 
typical  of  a  certain  type,  a  kind  of  spectacular,  ruthless  playing, 
you  see,  which  overshadowed  anybody  else  around.   I  couldn't  play 
when  he  was  around  because  I  played  a  totally  different  way.   We 
had  a  period  there,  a  kind  of  first  jealousy,  I  think.   I  was  more 
jealous  of  him,  because  whenever  Ernst  appeared,  he  was  the  magnet, 
you  see.   Well,  the  thing  that  saved  that  situation  was  that  he  was 
such  an  extremely  fine  musician.   And  he  can  still  play  a  Bach- 
Busoni  chaconne  like  you  never  heard.   So  after  the  first  couple  of 
years  and  adjustment,  why,  we  became  extremely  close  friends. 
Mutual  admiration  society,  but  at  the  same  time  it  was  the  first 
time  I'd  come  across  this  very  gentlemanly  but  very  aggressive 
personality.   That  was  another  kind  of  competition. 

My  competition  was  always — if  I  felt  it,  well,  I  do  the  best 
I  can  and  that's  that.   But  sometimes — wow! — it's  like  having  a 
show  in  a  museum  and  in  the  next  gallery  there's  somebody  who  has 
nothing  but  three  by  four-foot  prints.   They  might  be  lousy,  but 
they  still  would  be  impressive.  [Laughter]   Perhaps  superficial. 

But  Ernst  is  one  of  the  best  we've  got,  and  a  great  composer. 
He's  never  been  recognized.   He  never  makes  any  real  bid  for  fame, 
but  I  think  his  set  of  songs  to  Emily  Dickinson  poems  is  probably 
one  of  the  greatest  American  works — just  incredibly  beautiful.   He 
still  belongs  to  a  generation  that  had  "something  to  say."  The 
contemporary  music  to  me  seems  to  be  almost  mathematical  efforts  to 
experiment  with  new  symbols  and  sequences  and  combinations.   You 
get  through  with  it  and  you  think,  "Clever,  isn't  it?" 

I  remember  hearing  one — I  think  it  was  in  Boston.   I  was  at  a 
friend's  house,  listening  to  the  radio,  and  they  couldn't  wait  to 
hear  this  thing,  and  there  was  percussion  and  strings  and  two 
trumpets  and  jew's-harp — some  combination.   And  you  know  in  the 
cartoon  "Peanuts"  the  bird  that's  talking  to  the  dog?  It's  just  a 
genius  flight  of  imagination  to  get  this  conversation  of  the  little 
bird;  it's  nothing  but  a  series  of  little  dots,  you  know.  That's 
what  that  music  sounded  like — rumble,  rumble,  rumble,  squeak.   Then 
a  pause.   Then  somebody  taps  seven  times  with  a  bow.   Then  there's 
a  tremendous,  cacophonous,  dissonant  chord — with  more  rumbles,  then 
more  squeaks.   They  then  showed  me  the  score  of  this,  which  wasn't 
written  like  any  music  I'd  seen  before.   There  were  no  bars,  and 
all  these  strange  symbols.   We  got  all  through  it,  and  I  said,  "Well, 
what  happens  to  you  when  you  hear  that?"  "Perfectly  wonderful." 
"Well,"  I  said,  "what  happens?  It  is  clever,  but  I  didn't—"  Well, 


Adams:    they  really  couldn't  describe  an  emotional  experience;  it  was  an 

intellectual  experience,  and  therefore  it  was  aesthetic.   But  you've 
got  to  make  definitions  between  intellectual,  aesthetic,  and 
emotional.   And  great  art  has  all  of  it  together,  and  a  lot  of  the 
contemporary  stuff.... 

Cults,  Controls  and  Creativity 

Adams:    And  in  painting,  huge  paintings  may  be  just  intellectual  exercises, 
and  I  think  people  respond  because  such  response  is  indicated  in 
the  social  structure.   To  be  in — (quote)  "i-n" — you  create  certain 
things,  like  certain  things.   It's  a  multi-cult. 

That  same  thing  happens  in  business  methods.   The  thing  in 
business  now,  and  in  industry — well,  Dr.  Land  worked  very  hard  to 
establish  what  he  called  "peer  consciousness."  Everybody  in  the 
[Polaroid]  company  that  would  be,  say,  at  the  level  of  the 
engineers,  there  wouldn't  be  a  top  engineer  or  a  bottom  engineer; 
there  would  be  sort  of  a  group  of  peers,  which  means  you're  equals 
in  that  field.   He  didn't  like  the  idea  of  them  electing  a  chairman. 
They'd  have  a  secretary  who'd  just  call  the  meetings,  and  they'd 
appoint  a  chairman  for  the  evening.   They'd  discuss  it.   And  they 
got  by  like  that  for  a  while.   But  it  worked  better  with  the 
custodians  and  machine  operators  than  it  did  with  the  intellectuals. 
After  about  a  year  they  had  a  chairman  and  a  vice-chairman — all 
that  rigamarole.   Became  a  society. 

Teiser:   We  sometimes  think  of  societies  as  something  that  people  who  have 
little  create  for  themselves. 

Adams:    Well,  I  went  to  this  big  conference  the  other  day — the  Society  of 

Photographic  Scientists  and  Engineers.   There's  about  three  thousand 
members,  and  they're  all  the  top  people  in  the  optical  and  physical 
and  chemical  laboratories.   And  there  were  about  six  hundred  at 
conference.   They  were  a  little  disappointed  in  the  turnout,  but 
they're  expensive.   And  they  said  they  never  had  better  papers,  but 
the  papers  were,  to  me,  incomprehensible.   But  I  felt  very  much  "in", 
you  see,  that's  the  interesting  thing.   I  had  a  lot  of  friends.   That 
was  pleasant.   I  was  just  in  contact  with  a  world  which  I  know  is 
important  and  which  is  really  back  of  my  profession  and  the  materials 
1  use.  But  I  don't  really  understand  that  world  at  all. 

Teiser:   Did  you  speak  to  them? 

Adams:    No,  not  this  time.   I  did  before  once. 


Teiser:   When  you  speak  to  them,  what  do  you  speak  about? 

Adams:    Well,  I  was  asked  to  inject  the  creative  point  of  view,  refer  it  to 

the  materials,  how  research  has  helped  or  hindered  certain  materials. 
My  talk  was  on  the  obvious  development  of  the  films  and  the  papers 
and  chemicals;  their  consistency  is  perfectly  wonderful.   And  then 
the  tendency  toward  automatism  in  the  cameras,  which  has  just  the 
opposite  effect.   I  mean  it  discourages  creativity,  you  see. 

That  trouble  is  coming  up  in  films  now;  they're  making  things 
that  are  foolproof.   In  other  words,  they  say  they're  foolproof  and 
a  person  can't  make  a  mistake,  but  it  means  that  you  can't  control. 
Control  is  the  whole  essence  of  art.   They  are  control-proof!   So 
it's  conceivable  to  think  that  you  can  have — I  know  there  are  films 
made  that  have  an  exposure  range  of  one  to  fifteen,  and  the  film 
will  automatically  carry  it.   It'll  almost  always  come  out  in  one 
limited  scale.   And  that  would  be  disastrous.   It's  just  like  if  a 
paint  company  said,  "I'll  put  out  twelve  colors,  period."  [Laughter] 

O'Keeffe  feels  that.   She  grinds  her  own  pigment.   A  lot  of  the 
paintings  in  New  Mexico  are  done  from  the  stones  she's  just  picked 
up  in  the  desert.   She  gets  the  kind  of  thing  she  wants — directly 
and  perceptively  I 

Teiser:   You  can't  do  that  with  photographic  materials. 

Adams:    No.   No,  you  can't.   But  you  still  can  control.   I  can  under-expose, 
use  less  exposure  and  more  developer,  and  increase  my  scale  and 
texture.   But  the  modern  films  only  allow  one-zone  expansion.   I 
keep  thinking  in  my  mind  I'll  go  on  to  another  paper.   There  are 
only  two  films  made  by  Kodak  that  have  the  old  thick  emulsion,  and 
that  will  "expand"  in  prolonged  development  two  or  three  times. 
Now  some  printing  papers  are  given  new  synthetic  emulsions,  and 
they  "dry  down"  distressingly.   In  other  words,  the  print  will  look 
perfectly  beautiful  in  the  wash  water,  but  you  can't  use  it  when 
it's  dry.   So  there's  always  this  problem  of  having  to  print  light, 
to  print  unpleasantly  light,  and  then  it'll  dry  down.   Then  finally 
you  learn  just  about  how  deep  to  print.   But  in  the  old  days,  you 
could  put  the  print  up  on  a  white  thing,  and  it  would  look  that  way 
when  it  was  dry. 

Now  there's  one  paper  called  Varilour,  that  is  just  impossible. 
It  isn't  just  a  matter  of  tone.   A  white  surface  goes  gray.   The 
first  time  I  had  that  happen  to  me  was  with  a  print  in  a  portfolio, 
of  the  little  Hornitos  church.   It's  got  very  subtle  clapboards 
showing.   It's  a  white  church  but  you  barely  see  the  little 
clapboards.   And  I  made  the  print  so  you  just  saw  them,  and  I 
thought,  "Gee,  that's  beautiful!"  I  knew  it  was  going  to  dry  down — 
hopefully  just  a  little — so  I  went  ahead  and  made  the  whole  hundred 


Adams:   prints.   Had  to  throw  them  all  away.   The  white  went  down — gray,  you 
see.   So  then  I  had  to  start  the  next  day  and  make  a  whole  series  of 
exposures  and  develop  them  and  put  the  exposure  time,  etc.,  control 
on  the  back.  And  the  one  that  I  chose,  which  showed  the  clapboard 
beautifully  in  the  dried  print,  absolutely  did  not  show  it  in  the 
wet  print. 

The  point  is,  as  the  emulsion  swells,  the  silver  grains 
separate  like  an  expanding  universe.  And  then  the  light  penetrates — 
does  not  have  opposition.  And  then  as  the  emulsion  dries,  it  brings 
the  silver  together  and  you  see  it. 

Teiser:   European  papers  have  stayed  pretty  much  the  same,  have  they? 

Adams:   No.   They're  changing  too.   Agfa  Brovira  is  probably  the  most 

brilliant,  Ilford  is  fine — I  don't  always  like  the  surfaces.   None 
of  them  are  as  consistent  as  Kodak. 

Prints;   Tangible  and  Intangible  Aspects 

Adams:   It's  an  interesting  thing — the  thing  we  have  to  think  about  is:  what 
do  you  experience  when  you  see  a  print?  That  is,  what  is  a  print? 
There's  a  whole  series  of  grays,  from  black  to  white  and  grays  in 
between.   Well,  if  you  strip  the  emulsion  off  a  print,  which  you  could 
do,  it's  a  very  soft  image  (if  you  look  at  it  as  a  transparency). 
And  you  wonder,  "Well,  how  in  the  world  could  I  get  a  good  print  out 
of  that?  Isn't  there  some  silver  left  on  the  paper?"  No.  The  idea 
is  that  the  paper  reflects  90  percent  of  the  light  falling  upon  it, 
and  you  may  have  a  50  percent  layer  of  silver  in  one  part  of  the 
image.  Now,  say  a  hundred  units  of  light  strikes  the  surface  of  the 
print.   Fifty  percent  gets  through  the  silver  and  reaches  the  paper 
(the  background),  and  50  percent  is  reflected  by  the  paper  (which 
only  reflects  90  percent).   So  45  percent  of  that  light  is  reflected 
back  through  the  50  percent  silver,  which  reduces  it  to  22  1/2 
percent.   So  then  you  have  that  value  which  would  be  known  as  a 
22  1/2  percent  reflection  density,  0.75.   And  that  is  why,  you  see, 
printing  is  a  very  subtle  thing,  because  the  heavier  the  silver 
deposit,  the  deeper  and  deeper  the  tone.  And  finally,  with  toning 
I  can  get  with  selenium  down  to  the  reflection  density  of  2.3,  which 
is  1  to  200,  speaking  roughly.   But  visually  it  would  be  awfully 
hard  to  tell  the  difference  between  a  density  of  2.0  or  2.2  or  2.3; 
you'd  have  to  have  a  bright  light  and  put  them  right  together. 

The  Polaroid  is  a  different  process  and  has  what  is  called  the 
"linear  scale."  Your  ordinary  paper  scales  have  the  sine-curve 
shape,  the  "S-curve,"  the  positive  curve.   Now  the  part  of  that 
scale  which  is  most  accurate  or  at  least  in  proportion,  is  what  they 


Adams:   call  the  straight-line  section.   But  the  whites  and  the  blacks  belong 
in  the  toe  and  the  shoulder,  and  they  are  disproportionate.   They  can 
cause  you  all  kinds  of  aesthetic  upsets,  even  though  you  can't 
describe  it;  you  can't  be  fully  aware  of  it,  but  it's  there.  The 
Polaroid  has  a  long  straight-line  scale,  so  the  mind  unconsciously 
sees  in  the  Polaroid  print  a  progression  of  values  which  seems  much 
more  agreeable. 

Look  at  that  picture  over  there,  the  marble  head  and  the  leaf — 
see  it  on  the  wall? — I  can't  make  a  print  like  that  with  a  conven 
tional  paper.   I've  got  a  good  negative  of  it,  as  well  as  a  Polaroid 
print.   I  can't  make  as  good  a  print.   I  can't  get  that  luminosity, 
because  in  the  areas  that  are  most  subtle  I  can't  get  the 
proportionate  scale.   In  that  and  the  auto-masking  process,  which 
is  equivalent  to  the  old  printing  in  sunlight,  you  do  have  a 
continuous  line.   It's  not  an  obvious  sine-curve  shape. 

There's  an  article  out  now  trying  to  rationalize  and  put  it 
almost  on  a  computer  basis.  What  is  the  character  of  Mozart,  or 
Beethoven,  or  Schubert?  What  do  you  get  looking  at  certain  painters? 
And  they've  made  these  tests — certain  responses  on  a  pressure  basis. 
Very  complicated  thing,  and  it  just  draws  a  curve.  They  give  me  a 
test,  perhaps,  and  I  would  respond  to  certain  things,  and  they'd  put 
that  curve  on  file,  and  take  your  test.  And  the  strange  thing  is 
that  they've  found  that  it  doesn't  make  any  difference  who  you  are; 
your  curve  in  response  to  Mozart  is  typical,  and  it's  quite  different 
from  your  curve  in  response  to  Beethoven.   The  response  is  not 
basically  individual;  there's  something  in  the  aesthetics,  something 
in  the  music  pattern  that  controls  it.   And  the  same  with  the 
photograph.   Why  do  you  look  at  one  print  by  a  sensitive  printer  and 
the  same  subject  printed  by  a  good  but  unimaginative  darkroom  man, 
a  technician,  and  respond  differently?  The  difference  might  be  such 
you'd  think  it  was  not  the  same  picture.   And  yet  if  you  put  it  in 
the  reflection  densitometer,  you  might  get  almost  the  same  scale. 
It's  a  very  subtle  thing.   So  that's  part  of  my  approach  in  teaching, 
and  it  is  going  to  be  more  so  in  writing  now.   It's  a  kind  of  a 
summation  of  experience.   But  to  make  it  highly  valid,  I  really 
should  work  through  a  scientist.   If  I'm  going  to  talk  about  values 
in  any  way,  I  ought  to  double  check,  you  see,  so  I'm  just  not 
transcribing  my  own  symbols.   It  would  have  to  be  something  that's 

Teiser:   Well,  you  mean  you  have  to  translate  subjective  judgments  into 

Adams:   Have  to  do  it  some  way,  because  if  I  talk  about  a  print — like  this 
print  of  Half  Dome  ["Moon  and  Half  Dome"],  this  big  one — I  must  say 
that  I  can  make  it  in  varying  ways.   If  I  go  light  to  a  certain 
point,  it  becomes  weak,  so  I  tear  it  up.   If  I  go  dark  to  a  certain 


Adams:   point,  it  becomes  hard  and  heavy,  so  I  tear  it  up.   But  in  between 
is  quite  a  range  of  difference,  and  some  levels  are  acceptable. 
Now,  what  is  that  range?   It's  the  intangible  thing  that  makes  it 
art  instead  of  record. 

Teiser:  When  we  were  speaking  with  Mr.  and  Mrs.  Spencer*  last  week,  1  asked, 
"Do  you  think  Mr.  Adams's  work  has  changed  over  the  years  you've 
known  him?"  Mr.  Spencer  said,  yes,  he  thought  a  little,  in  that  the 
line  had  become  sharper.   And  he  was  showing  us  a  print  of  Half  Dome 
with  the  moon — that  same  photograph — as  an  example  of  what  he 
thought  your  work  had  come  to.   He  admired  it  greatly.   And  he 
seemed  to  think  that  you  would  not  have  made  that  photograph  in  that 
way  earlier. 

Adams:   He's  right.   He's  an  extremely  perceptive  man — both  of  them  can 

really  talk  intelligently  about  aesthetics.   It's  a  very  rare  thing— 
and  they  are  rare  people.   They  can -talk  and  analyze  things  in  the 
most  extraordinary  way,  rather  impersonal  and  very  delicate.   Of 
course,  she's  a  great  expert  in  stained  glass — antique  glass — one  of 
the  top  people.   And  to  have  her  talk  about  these  significant  slight 
differences.  And  it  isn't  just  a  matter  of  different  glass,  it's 
just  that  intangible  multiple  quality  of  color  and  value.  They're 
always  amazed  that  I  like  Rouault,  because  most  of  Rouault's  work  is 
related  to  the  stained  glass  appearance,  you  know,  with  the  black 
separating  lines.   I  never  thought  of  it  that  way,  you  see.   I  just 
liked  these  beautiful  blocks  of  color.  And,  Mrs.  Spencer  said, 
"Well,  do  you  know  that  Rouault's  paintings  superficially  look  like 
stained  glass."  And  it  suddenly  occurred  to  me,  "My  gosh,  they  do, 
don't  they?"  They  do  and  they  don't,  but  they  do  enough  so  you  can 
think  of  it. 

And  then,  what  is  the  function  of  glass?  Why  all  these  little 
shapes?  Then  you  take  a  flow  of  glass,  of  shape,  and  you  see  that 
each  one  of  these  shapes  has  a  dynamic  relationship  to  the  next  one, 
and  that  will  lift  your  eyes — move  your  eyes.   It's  a  very  subtle 
thing.   You  just  don't  put  about  random  globs  of  glass.   The  shapes 
are  all  felt — like  mosaics.  Gerry  Sharpe,  who  was  quite  a  fine 
photographer — she  unfortunately  died  early — she  worked  for  us  for 
quite  a  while  and  she  did  that  mosaic  table,  which  is  an  extremely 
sensitive  thing.   I  forget  who  she  worked  with — Louisa  Jenkins  or 
somebody.   That's  the  first  and  only  one  she  did.  But  there  are 
very  subtle  juxtapositions  of  shapes  and  values  therein.  They  flow. 
It's  very  hard  to  describe. 

In  photography,  if  I  can  say  it,  I  think  my  work  has  that  flow, 
and  I  think  that's  what  makes  it  have  a  certain  appeal.   It's  what 
all  creative  photographers  must  have,  because  people  do  respond  to 
more  than  fact.   And  I  guess  I  really  sell  more  prints  than  anyone, 
and  sell  them  to  a  quite  varied  audience.   So  I  know  there's  a 
response  somewhere.   Weston  didn't  sell  too  much  while  alive;  he 

*Eldridge  T.  and  Jeanette  Dyer  Spencer. 


Adams:    surely  sells  now.   People  are  paying  fantastic  prices  for  remaining 
prints  that  appear  every  once  in  a  while.   But  he  sold  to  a  rather 
limited  audience,  and  didn't  sell  very  many.   Some  people  with  means 
would  buy  a  hundred  prints  for  a  collection  of  an  art  gallery  or  a 
museum.   And  that  was  fine;  it  would  keep  him  going.   But  the 
individual  prints  were  not  acquired  as  they  should  have  been. 

Now,  of  course,  I  think  all  the  time,  probably  a  lot  of  my 
pictures  are  sold  because  of  the  subject.   But  it's  the  subject  plus. 
A  literal  picture  of  the  moon  and  Half  Dome  would  almost  have  to  be 
very  unpleasant.   "Gee,  there's  the  moon,  Bud,  look!"  [Laughs]   That's 
about  the  end  of  it. 

Teiser:   Do  you  know  we've  kept  you  talking  for  two  hours? 

Adams:   Yes.   I've  got  to  go  to  a  party,  then  out  to  dinner.   I  am  a  little 
bit  thought  out. 

[End  Tape  4,  Side  2] 


[Interview  IV  —  19  May  1972] 
[Begin  Tape  5,  Side  1] 

The  Group  f/64  Exhibit 

Adams:   This  time  you  wanted  more  f/64. 

Teiser:   Well,  yes.   We'll  probably  keep  coming  back  to  things  you've  mentioned 
and  ask  you  more  about  them.   The  f/64  group — I'm  sure  you're  sick  to 
death  of  being  asked  about  it. 

Adams:   No,  no. 

Teiser:   We  ran  down  two  articles;  one  of  them  is  just  a  notice.   Shall  I 
read  them  to  you? 

Adams :   Yes . 

Teiser:   From  the  San  Francisco  Chronicle,  an  unsigned  article  of  November  27, 
1932 — the  end  of  a  review  of  an  exhibit  of  paintings. 

"Another  new  exhibit  at  the  de  Young  Museum 
comprises  photographs  by  members  and  guests  of  the 
Group  f/64.   There  is  a  beautiful  work  on  view" 
(that  is  a  typo,  I  guess)  "although  the  promise 
of  novelty  suggested  in  the  name  of  the  organiza 
tion  that  sponsors  the  exhibition  is  not  carried 

Adams:    I  don't  understand  what  they  mean  by  that. 

Teiser:   [Continuing]   "These  photographers,  like  other  talented 
brethren  of  the  lens,  are  admirable  portrait 
artists,  imaginative  creators  of  abstract  patterns, 
romanticists  who  look  for  charm  in  boats,  in 
scenery,  in  grand  landscape,  and  in  every  small 
growing  thing  that  is  nourished  at  the  bottom  of 
Mother  Earth. 

"Exhibitors  include--" 

Adams:   Well,  that's  more  favorable  than  a  lot  we  had.  [Laughter]   It's 
funny.   I  don't  remember  that  at  all. 

They  didn't  know  how  to  write  about  photography  then,  you  know. 
Just  didn't  know  what  to  say.   They  thought  some  photography  was 


Adams:   imitating  abstract  art.   I  don't  call  it  "abstract;"  I  call  it 

"extract."  A  photograph  is  an  extract,  unless  you  go  to  a  photogram. 
But  using  a  lens,  you  can't  really  abstract — you  can  fuse  and 
duplicate  and  double  print,  but  you  really  can't  abstract  like  a 
painter  can,  you  see.   So  I  think  the  word  "extract"  makes  a  little 
more  sense.   It's  very  personal;  I  think  it'll  never  get  in  the 
dictionary.  [Laughter]   But  an  extract  is  to  get  the  essence  of 
something — it  is  of  something.  And  the  image  of  the  lens  is  of 
something.   It's  not  just  production  up  here  [in  the  head], 

Teiser:   I  suppose  the  distinction  that  most  people  make  is  that  if  they 
look  at  it  and  can't  immediately  tell  what  it  is,  it's  abstract. 
Is  that  it? 

Adams:   Well,  then  you  have  abstract  expressionism — 
Teiser:  No,  I  mean  in  a  photographic  sense  only. 

Adams:   Photographs.   Well,  in  a  lot  of  things  that  Weston  did,  he  had  a 
great  sense  of  form.   But  people  kept  reading  into  this,  you  see, 
the  constructivist  idea  of  the  painter.   When  they  see  the  photograph, 
they  think  of  it  as  something  the  photographer  really  did — in  produc 
ing  these  curves  and  shapes.   But  all  a  photographer  could  do  would 
be  to  select  and  enhance  what  he  was  selecting  by  the  photographic 
technique,  by  his  own  approach.   It's  pretty  tricky.   It  gets  into 

Teiser:  We  were  looking  at  a  photograph  of  yours — I  can't  remember  in  what 
volume  now — and  on  the  opposite  page  was  a  photograph  of  Edward 
Weston' s.   The  subject  was  the  same — rocks,  close  up.   Your  photograph 
was,  to  me  at  least,  immediately  recognizable  and  his — if  I  hadn't 
seen  others,  I  would  have  had  to  puzzle  over  it,  and  maybe  I  would 
never  have  discovered  it.   Would  one  really  know  that  it  was  rocks 
along  the  sea? 

Adams:   Well,  it's  awfully  hard  to  qualify  those  things  because  the  emphasis 
in  Edward  Weston 's  mind  was  not  as  much  on  nature  as  mine  was.   I 
mean,  Weston  was  a  universal  person.  He'd  take  an  egg  beater — of 
course  I  did  too — but  he'd  take  a  portrait  or  he'd  take  anything  that 
he  saw  that  would  comprise  a  statement — through  which  he  could  say 
something.   Now,  these  words  "say  something"  are  very  tricky,  because 
you're  not  really  saying,  you're  observing  and  transmitting  and 
clarifying.   I  don't  know;  the  words  are  almost  hopeless.   We  use  the 
word  "visualization"  when  we  see  the  print  in  our  mind's  eye.   Well, 
we  really  don't.   We  see  the  image.   We  think  of  the  edges,  we  think 
of  the  textures,  we  think  of  all  that  is  appropriate.   And  then  we 
have  to  look  in  the  ground  glass  and  see  if  we've  really  arranged  the 
thing  as  we  wish,  and  if  we're  watching  our  edges  and  if  we're 
watching  our  confusions  and  mergers  and  all  the  little  things. 


Adams:        It's  awfully  hard  to  say.   In  other  words,  I'm  looking  at 
you  here — I  see  a  picture.   If  I  were  a  painter,  I  wouldn't 
have  any  problem  at  all  because  I  could  synthesize  everything  I 
see  around  here.   But  through  the  lens  from  this  point  of  view, 
the  sofa's  cutting  your  neck  right  off  under  the  ear,  and  the 
scene  outside  [through  the  window  behind]  is  hopelessly  confusing. 
You  know,  there  are  so  many  things,  it  would  not  make  a  good  photo 
graph.   Now,  I  could  go  "click,"  you  see,  and  I  could  get  what  a 
lot  of  people  call  just  a  spontaneous  image.   But  that's  not  a 
communicative  image.   Not  necessarily.   Cartier-Bresson  might  be 
able  to  do  it,  but  he  wouldn't  just  sit  here.   He  would  move  to  a 
place  where  he  would  get  you  at  the  optimum  advantage.   The  difference 
between  a  man  like  Cartier-Bresson  and  a  snap  shooter  or  a  person 
who's,  well,  it's  about  the  same  family  as  the  cinema  verite — just 
walk  right  into  a  group  and  you're  part  of  it.   People  forget  that 
there's  nothing  duller  than  a  sequence  in  motion.   It's  the  editing 
that  makes  the  movies  the  great  thing.   Well,  it  has  to  be  there  to 
begin  with. 

Teiser:   Have  you  seen  a  Warhol  movie? 

Adams:    I  haven't.  [Laughter]   I  hear  it's  pretty  wild. 

Teiser:   It  must  seem  to  go  on  for  several  days  at  a  time. 

Adams:   Well,  it's  like  pop  art.   For  the  lack  of  anything  else  to  occupy 
their  spirits,  they  get  a  can  of  Campbell's  soup.   Then  they  do  a 
very  bad  picture,  which  some  ordinary  signboard  artist  would  be 
ashamed  of.   And  that  gets  six  thousand  dollars  for  a  museum  wall. 
[Laughter]   I  saw  a  pop  art  show  in  the  East  and  I  was  aghast.   It 
was  the  crudest,  most  ridiculous  thing  I've  ever  seen.   I  tried  to 
figure  it  out.   Really  a  can  of  Campbell's  soup  and  not  very  well 
rendered  I   And  huge,  you  know.   Of  course  now  they're  painting 
pictures  so  big  that  galleries  are  being  taxed  to  show  them,  let 
alone  get  them  in  the  museum.   Like  five  bands  of  varying  shades  of 
black.   The  other  kind  is  when  they  start  at  the  top  with  wet  paint 
and  let  it  dribble  down,  and  let  it  come  down  out  of  the  frame  and 
out  on  the  floor.   I  saw  one  painting  that  was  done  right  in  the 
museum,  and  that  floor  was  part  of  the  composition.   As  the  paint 
dripped  on  the  floor,  it  was  all  part  of  it.   They  call  it  the 
"mustique."  [Laughter] 

Teiser:   Back  to  Group  f/64 — this  one  is  a  real  review,  I  guess,  as  reviews 

went.   This  is  by  a  man  named  Julius  Craven,  writing  in  The  Argonaut, 
December  2,  1932.   Did  you  know  him? 

Adams:   Oh  yes,  yes.   He  was  pretty  good. 

Teiser:   [Reading]   "For  the  benefit  of  those  who  may  be  as 
ignorant  of  cameras  and  camera  craft  as  we  are, 
if  there  are  any  such,  we  may  as  well  begin  by 
explaining  that  'Group  f.64,'  [sic]  a  group  of 


Teiser:       photographers  which  is  now  exhibiting. . .takes  its  name 
from  the  smallest  stop  on  a  camera  lens.   When  the  f.64 
stop  is  used  in  making  an  exposure,  it's  called  'stopping 
down'  or  'sharp  focusing.'   And  sharp  focusing  happens 
to  be  the  vogue  just  now  in  'artistic'  photography...." 

Adams:   I  think  this  is  a  point,  if  I  may  say  it:   The  lens  is  sharp,  if  it's 
wide  open,  on  the  focal  plane,  but  "stopping  down"  gives  depth  so  you 
have  "sharpness"  on  many  planes.   And  the  f/64  is  the  smallest  stop 
on  the  conventional  big  twelve- inch  lens.   F/16  might  be  the  smallest 
on  a  miniature  lens  and  a  process  lens  may  be  over  f/200.   So  f/64  is 
a  symbol — it  means  depth  more  than  sharpness.   (Pardon  me  for  inter 
jecting  this,  but  these  are  relevant  ideas.) 

Teiser:   But  by  1932  was  it  a  "vogue"  in  artistic  photography,  as  he  says? 

Adams :   No ,  I  think  what  he  was  saying  there  was  that  we  were  daring  to  enter 
the  domain  of  the  arts. 

Teiser:   [Reading]   "The  membership  of  the  group  is  comprised  of..."  (and  lists 
them  all).   "You  might  say  that  these  are  the  master- 
photographers  of  California.   However,  their  current 
exhibition  includes  prints  by  an  additional  (invited) 
group  of  four,  namely,  Preston  Holder,  Consuela  [Consuelo] 
Kanaga,  Alma  Lavenson,  and  Brett  Weston.   And  this  group 
might  also  be  called  master-photographers.   Anyway,  be 
that  as  it  may,  together  they  are  offering  an  excellent 
exhibition  of  photographs. 

"Photography  is  one  of  the  few  crafts  that  has 
advanced  during  the  machine  age.   This  may  be  partly 
due  to  some  of  the  inventions  pertaining  to  it.   But 
it  is  probably  largely  because  photography  has  come 
to  be  recognized  as  being  closely  akin  to,  if  not 
actually  to  overlap  conventional  creative  art.   The 
pictorial  photographer  of  today  must  be  a  capable 
artist  (culturally,  instinctively,  mentally),  as  well 
as  a  highly  trained  technician.   He  is  not  only  the  man 
behind  the  camera,  but  the  brains  inside  it,  as  well." 

Adams:   "Pictorial"  equals  amateur,  weak  P.S.A.  stuff! 

Teiser:   [Reading]   "There  are  many  outstandingly  beautiful  prints  in  the  show." 
Shall  I  read  you  some  of  the  ones  he  mentions? 

Adams:   Yes,  fine.   I  think  that's  pretty  good  what  he  said,  for  the  times. 
With  no  knowledge  of  photography,  no  exposure  to  photography,  that's 
very  good  comment. 

Teiser:   [Reading]   "There  are  many  outstandingly  beautiful  prints  in  the  show. 


Teiser:       Imogen  Cunningham's  studies  of  plant  forms;  Ansel  Adams's 
fine  studies  of  Piazzoni  at  work  on  his  murals  for  the 
Public  Library;  Cunsuelo  Kanaga's  four  exceptionally 
fine  portrait  studies  of  negros  [sic] ;  one  of  which  we 
think  we  recognize  as  being  Kenneth  Spencer;..."  Was  it? 

Adams:   Could  have  been,  could  have  been.   Yes,  I  think  it  was. 

Teiser:   [Reading]   "...Willard  Van  Dyke's  'Plant  Form';  Sonia  Noskowiak's 
'Palm  Blossom';  Edward  and  Brett  Weston's  many  fine 
studies  of  form  and  design.   Such  a  collection  of  prints 
makes  us  feel  that,  had  we  time  or  money,  or  both,  we  would 
add  photography  to  our  list  of  favorite  hobbies.   But  we 
also  know  enough  about  it  to  realize  that  photography  is  hard 
labor  in  one  of  its  most  drastic  forms,  and  not  a  mere 
pastime  to  play  at."  [Laughter] 

Adams:   Yes.   Being  a  hobbyist.   Unfortunately,  there  are  many  people  who  can 
afford  to  be.   That's  why  so  many  bad  things  are  done. 

Teiser:   By  the  wealthy  hobbyists? 

Adams:   The  wealthy  hobbyists.   They  might  as  well  play  golf  or  have  a  polo 
horse  or  a  motorboat.   But  there's  something  entrancing  about  the 
whole  photographic  setup,  the  cameras,  the  lenses,  the  equipment. 
It's  just  unbelievable  now,  and  the  precision  and  quality's  unbeliev 
able.   It's  one  thing  that's  gone  up.   Cars  might  go  down,  but  I 
don't  think  there's  ever  been  a  reason  for  Ralph  Nader  to  investigate 
photographic  equipment  performance.  [Laughs]   And  sometimes  it's 
miraculous  what  they  do  in  the  price  range,  although  prices  are  up. 

Meters,  Lenses  and  Film  Speeds 

Adams : 

Adams : 

We  have  exposure  meters — we  make  demands.   Well,  a  really  dependable 
meter  would  cost  a  thousand  dollars,  and  they  cost  a  little  over  a 
hundred,  because  they  make  them  in  quantity.   They're  still  not  really 
accurate.   I  have  an  English  photometer  that  costs  a  little  over  two 
hundred  dollars  now,  and  it's  still  the  most  accurate  photometer  that 
the  average  person  can  get.   I  can  think  of  other  photometers  that 
run  up  into  thousands  of  dollars;  they're  really  accurate  through  the 
full  scale,  consistent  calibration. 

Are  they  portable? 

No.   They  would  be  in  a  suitcase.  [Laughs] 
be  in  a  small  suitcase. 

The  Leukeish  meter  would 


Adams:   You  always  have  that  problem  with  the  cameras.   Now  these  precision 
cameras  are  really  made  to  tolerances  that  are  unbelievable — one 
hundredth  of  a  millimeter,  thousandth  of  a  millimeter.   I  mean  they've 
really  done  beautifully,  and  I  don't  imagine  we  ever  can  significantly 
improve  on  the  lenses  which  we  now  have. 

Teiser:  Did  the  first  lenses  you  used  have  qualities  however  that,  say, 
coated  lenses  now  don't  have? 

Adams:   Well,  there  were  very  fine  lenses  made  then,  but  they  weren't 

consistent;  they  weren't  very  spectacular  in  their  performance  and 
their  coverage.   For  instance,  I  doubt  if  you  could  get  something 
like  a  Super-Angulon  wide-angle  lens  today  without  benefit  of  a 
computer.   I  mean,  the  design  is  so  complex.   The  perfect  flat 
field;  a  five-inch  lens  that  will  cover  an  eight  by  ten  plate,  on 
axis  they  call  it.   And  it's  beautiful.   To  figure  that  just  by 
arithmetic  would  be  highly  improbable.   We  used  lenses  like  the 
Dagor  and  the  Cooke  and  the  Zeiss  Protar,  which  were  very  fine 
lenses.   Some  were  convertible;  you  could  use  different  elements 
separately  or  together.   They  gave  beautiful  images  and  why  nobody 
exactly  knows.   There  was  some  aberration,  but  it  didn't  destroy  the 
visual  resolution,  which  was  quite  high. 

The  theory  of  the  coated  lens  is  very  intricate,  and  people 
don't  understand  what  happens.   But  every  air-glass  surface — that  is, 
surface  of  glass  to  air — reflects  about  4  percent  of  the  light 
falling  on  it.   If  you  have  a  four  air-glass  element  lens,  like  a 
Dagor,  you  get  about  80-plus  percent  transmission  of  light;  the  rest 
of  it's  scattered.   But  some  of  that  scatter  produces  a  flare  over 
the  image — a  very  low- impact  flare  of  light.   The  bad  lenses  are  the 
ones  that  give  you  a  flare  in  the  middle,  which  is  a  real  flare.   But 
the  average  uncoated  lens  like  a  Protar  would  just  give  you  a  soft 
shadow.   It  would  add  a  couple  of  units  of  exposure,  and  that  would 
give  you  a  very  smooth  image,  and  the  Cooke  lenses,  which  were  eight 
air-glass,  would  give  you  a  very  soft  image  for  that  reason.   You 
would  get  almost  what  we  would  call  today  pre-exposure.   In  black  and 
white,  that's  an  advantage.   Every  black  and  white  photographer  should 
have  at  least  one  uncoated  lens,  a  six  or  eight  air-glass,  because  it 
would  solve  a  lot  of  contrast  problems. 

When  you  get  into  color,  you  have  a  different  thing,  because 
flare  then  takes  on  the  dominant  color  of  the  subject,  so  that  if 
you're  photographing  a  landscape  with  much  blue  sky,  you  would  get 
a  blue  cast.   If  you're  photographing  trees,  you  would  get  a  green 
cast.   The  flare  would  convey  the  dominant  hue  or  color  of  the  scene. 
So  that's  why  coated  lenses  are  very  important  now  with  color. 

And  then,  if  you  look  at  a  lens  which  is  coated,  you'll  see  a 
purple  or  yellowish  cast.   If  you  see  a  yellow  coating,  that  means 


Adams:    it's  transmitting  more  blue;  if  you  see  a  purplish-blue  cast,  that 
means  it's  transmitting  more  yellow.   You  used  to  get  lenses  that 
would  be  coated  different  ways;  so  a  35  mm.  camera  might  not  give 
you  the  same  color  balance  with  different  lenses.   All  the  lenses 
of  one  make  are  all  coated  the  same — so  much  blue,  so  much  yellow,  or 
purple.   They  have  new  systems  called  "super coats ,"  and  they're 
getting  down  to  an  absolute  minimum  of  flare.   So  your  color  purity 
is  superior  now  to  what  it's  ever  been — better  than  you  ever  could 
get  it  before.   I  know  in  the  old  days  people  always  said,  "We'll 
have  to  use  a  lens  composed  of  as  few  elements  as  possible." 
[Interruption  for  phone  call] 

As  for  the  f/64  group,  I  don't  think  any  of  us  had  a  coated  lens 
at  that  time.   I  think  I  tried  one  a  few  years  later.   And  it's 
interesting  for  a  photographer  to  study  the  quality  of  his  earlier 
work.   Because  in  earlier  black  and  white,  there's  always  a  longer, 
richer  scale  than  there  is  in  many  contemporary  pictures.   Because 
we've  lost  two  to  four  exposing  units  at  the  bottom  of  our  curve, 
because  we  have  done  away  with  "flare."  We  get  the  true  luminous 
range,  and  that  makes  for  deep  shadow  values.   You  see  many  pictures, 
especially  with  miniature  cameras,  where  the  shadows  look  very  empty — 
lifeless,  dead,  no  density.   But  part  of  that  is  due  to  the  fact  that 
there's  absolutely  no  support  of  the  shadows,  which  you  would  get  if 
you  had  some  flare. 

Whereas  in  color  without  flare  you'd  be  unhappy.   I  took  a  color 
picture  of  Edward  Weston  sitting  by  his  brick  chimney,  and  everything 
went  red  because  the  brick  was  in  sun,  and  this  caused  a  red  flare. 
In  the  modern  lens  you  might  get  only  a  whisper  of  red,  but  you 
wouldn't  get  that  all-over  reddish  cast. 

But  I  don't  think  any  of  the  f/64  people  had  anything  like  that. 
The  Leitz  people,  and  Zeiss,  I  think,  put  out  an  f/1.5  lens  with  lens 
coating,  but  it  was  greenish  and  it  was  terrible  for  color.   Then  the 
Polarizer  came  in.   Before  Land  invented  Polaroid  there  were  several 
very  crude  ways  of  making  polarizing  filters.   And  one  was  a  deposition 
of  sheep  urine  crystals  on  glass  or  plastic.   Now,  of  all  the  animals 
in  the  world,  the  sheep  urine  condenses  into  long  crystals  like  a 
picket  fence,  and  these  could  be  aligned.   So  the  light  that  is 
vibrating  this  way  (vertical)  goes  through  the  fence;  the  light  that 
goes  that  way  (horizontal)  doesn't! 

It  also  had  a  color  effect.  And  then  Land  invented  a  way  to 
manufacture  a  plastic  film  with  polarizing  crystals,  which  is  color 
less,  or  practically  so.   It  is  one  of  the  great  technical  achieve 
ments  of  our  time.   When  you  look  at  what  that  man  has  accomplished 
in  various  fields,  it  almost  scares  you. 

We  take  Polaroid  glasses  now  for  granted.   You  buy  3-D  viewers 
for  five  cents  and  all  such  stuff.   It's  all  a  matter  of  making  a 


Adams:   plastic — hundreds  of  miles  of  it,  in  big  sheets — in  which  the  Polaroid 
crystals  are  all  aligned.   Theoretically,  it's  extremely  complex.   Now 
you  just  push  a  button  and  this  machine  does  it.  [Laughs]   So,  at  any 
rate,  we  didn't  have  that  aid  until  quite  a  bit  later. 

Then  the  polarizers  came  in,  and  were  gratefully  received.   I 
can't  remember  the  dates  of  introduction  of  these  things,  but  I  would 
say  that  most  of  the  f/64  people  were  using  pretty  basic  equipment — 
uncoated  lenses,  films  of  the  type  of  Isopan,  or  Kodak  Superanchro- 
matic.   The  speeds  were  around  ASA  64,  plus  or  minus.  Many  went  down 
to  24  and  lower  than  that. 

Teiser:  Were  you  using  ASA  speeds  then? 

Adams:   No,  we  used  Weston  speeds,  and  there  were  the  Scheiner  and  DIN  speeds, 
all  of  which  are  logical  arithmetical  systems. 

The  first  Weston  light  meter  was  designed  to  help  out  the 
photographer  and  avoid  his  making  under-exposures,  so  they  added  what 
they  called  a  "K"  factor — and  they  used  first  the  number  50,  which 
should  have  been  64.   It  mathematically  worked  out  as  ASA  64.   But 
they  took  one  more  number  just  for  safety.   Finally  they  found  that 
people  were  over-exposing,  so  they  used  ASA  64.   Fifty  is  the  first 
step  below.   You  see,  all  these  numbers — you  go  from  32  to  40  to  50 
to  64,  etc.   Everything  goes  up  on  the  log  to  base  10  number,  which 
is  0,  .1,  .2,  .3,  (which  is  two  times),  .4,  .5,  .6  (which  is  four 
times),  .7,  .8,  .9  (which  is  eight  times),  and  so  on.   So  all  the 
lens  stops  and  ASA  numbers  progress  "three."  Every  time  they  double, 
like  64  to  125,  you  have  two  log  10  steps.   It's  up  to  the  manufac 
turer  to  decide  the  calibration  he  wants.   Most  of  the  built-in 
meters  in  the  cameras  are  not  accurate,  very  strangely  calibrated — 
the  ones  I've  come  across.   But  they  may  be  beautiful  pieces  of 
electronic  gadgetry.   You  have  to  make  personal  adjustments  to  a 
complex  world'. 

Brigman,  Van  Dyke,  Edwards,  and  Cunningham 

Adams:    But  that's  getting  off  the  f/64.  You  want  more  of  that. 

Teiser:   All  of  the  people  in  that  group  really  are  of  interest.   Let  me  read 
down  a  list  of  those  who  exhibited. 

The  first  one  was  not  a  member  of  the  group,  but  I  think  she 

was  a  photographer,  and  I  think  Imogen  Cunningham  said  that  the 

group  first  met  in  her  studio  although  she  herself — Ann  Brigman — 
wasn't  there. 


Adams:   Ann  Brigman,  yes.   She  was  the  only  photographer  from  the  West  that 
Stieglitz  liked.   He  felt  that  she  had  a  perception  that  was  very 
unusual.   Her  work  was  primarily  soft  focus,  and  a  great  deal  of  it 
was  entwining  nudes  with  Sierra  junipers.   Some  very  effective, 
almost  art  nouveau  feeling.   But  it  was  very  thoughtful  and  very  well 
done.   I  don't  remember  many  more  things  than  her  fantasies  of  the 
juniper — the  tree  shapes,  and  then  the  nudes  relating  thereto,  in 

Teiser:  Was  she  a  professional  photographer? 

Adams : 


Adams : 

Yes.   I  think  she  did  portraits.   I  don't  know  too  much  about  her.   I 
only  met  her  once.   But  she  was  quite  a  considerable  person  and  went 
right  along  with  the  Stieglitz  tradition  of  trying  to  see  things 
photographically ,  although  the  definition  was  goofy  most  of  the  time. 

You  see,  they  were  still  afraid  of  sharp  things,  and  our  f/64, 
really  a  visual  manifesto,  was  to  come  back  to  the  sharpness — the 
microscopic  revelation  of  the  lens — and  as  it's  perfectly  gorgeous, 
why  hide  it? 

You've  spoken  of  Willard  Van  Dyke, 

Can  you  discuss  him  a  little 

Well,  he  was  a  very  vital  young  man;  he  had  a  great  imagination  and 
was  a  great  friend  of  Edward  Weston.   He  did  some  very  fine  stills. 
(In  fact,  he  had  a  fine  show  of  his  still  photography  a  little  while 
ago — very  unexpected!)   After  the  f/64  experiences  he  decided  he  had 
reached  the  limit  of  what  he  could  do  in  still  black  and  white,  and 
he  thought,  "It's  the  movies  for  me  now.   I'm  going  to  go  into 
cinema  productions,"  and  he  went  to  New  York  and  became  a  very 
successful  and  important  documentary  photographer  in  the  film  world. 

He  went  east,  and  I'm  not  sure  of  this,  but  I  think  at  first  he 
made  a  small  living  by  doing  stills.   He  had  a  remarkable  darkroom  in 
a  closet.   You  know  New  York  and  the  limit  of  space.   He  put  shelves 
in  it,  so  he'd  stand  on  a  stepladder  and  have  developer  on  the  top 
shelf,  the  short  stop  on  the  second  shelf  and  the  fixing  bath  on  the 
third  shelf,  and  then  down  to  the  water  tub — and  then  he'd  take  the 
negative  or  print  out  to  the  bathtub  and  wash  them.  [Laughs]   That's 
more  or  less  official.   Anyway,  he  did  make  a  big  success  in  the  docu 
mentary  world.   I  think  he  was  very  close  to  [Robert  J.]  Flaherty  and 
Pare  Lorenz  and  others  of  that  group.   There's  probably  many 
associates  I  don't  know  of. 

And  then,  after  a  rewarding  career,  he  had  the  opportunity  to 
take  over  the  department  of  moving  pictures — of  film — at  the  Museum 
of  Modern  Art,  which  is  a  tribute  to  his  qualities. 


Adams : 

Adams : 


Adams : 

Adams : 

Adams : 

His  career  just  went  right  along? 

It  went  along  very  famously  and  very  favorably.   He's  a  fine  person. 

He  started  making  a  living  by  running  a  gas  station — was  that  it? 

Yes,  he  was  running  a  gas  station  over  in  Piedmont,  and  a  museum 
director  saw  him  one  day,  and  he  said,  "Well,  so  this  is  what  you  do 
when  you're  not  in  the  darkroom.   I  call  it  a  matter  of  pump  and 
circumstance,"  which  is  a  great  pun!  [Laughter] 

I  haven't  seen  him  very  much.   We're  very  fond  of  each  other. 
He  says  I'm  the  only  "square"  he  loves.  [Laughter]  Well,  you  can 
call  me  an  oddball  for  some  things.  [Laughter]   Anyway,  I  know  he 's 
doing  fine. 

Then,  on  my  list,  there's  you  and  Edward  Weston  and  John  Paul  Edwards. 

John  Paul  Edwards — I  think  he  was  a  businessman.   As  far  as  I  can 
remember,  he  was  not  a  professional  photographer.   He  was  an  ardent 
amateur.   And  his  daughter,  Mary  Jeanette  Edwards,  was  a  great  flame 
of  Van  Dyke's  before  he  left  for  the  East.   They  ran  the  little  studio 
together  on  Brockhurst  Street  in  Oakland.   And  then  something  happened- 

But  John  Paul  Edwards  was  an  accomplished  photographer — enough  for  you 
to  admit  him  to  your  group? 

There's  some  question,  actually,  if  you  wanted  to  be  very  cold-blooded 
about  it,  whether  he  was  good  enough,  but  we  had  no  established 
standards.   I  think  today  a  couple  of  members  would  have  been 
eliminated  on  the  basis  of  standards  or  accomplishment — for  no  other 
reasons.   I  don't  think  he  did  enough  really  good  work,  but  he  was  so 
sympathetic!   And  every  organization  has  valuable  enthusiasts  that  may 
not  be  up  to  the  top  level  of  some  of  the  other  people,  but  still  are 
very  important  because  they  get  things  done.   It's  very  easy  to  be 
very  snobbish  in  this.   But  we  all  accepted  him.   Which  one  do  you 
have1  next  on  the  list? 

Imogen  Cunningham. 

Oh  well,  she's  a  great  figure.   She's  very  important. 

What  sort  of  photographs  was  she  making  at  that  time?  She's  done  a 
variety  of  work. 

It  has  always  been  mult i -diverse,  if  you  want  to  use  the  term.   She's 
always  covered  a  tremendous  field.   At  that  time  she  was  doing 
portraits  and  flowers — details.   She  made  platinum  prints.   I  have 
quite  a  beautiful  detail  of  a  magnolia  flower.   But  at  that  time,  you 


Adams:   see,  people's  techniques  weren't  what  they  are  today  and  chemical 

knowledge  wasn't  much  either,  and  unfortunately  many  of  the  works  of 
that  period  are  fading,  including  mine.   We  didn't  know  about  two 
hypo  baths,  for  example,  and  we  didn't  know  lots  of  important 
technical  things. 

Parmelian  Prints 

Adams : 
Teiser ; 
Adams : 

Adams : 


Adams : 

Many  of  my  works  before  1930  could  very  easily  fade,  and  have! 
Oh,  is  that  right? 

The  portfolio  show  they  had  at  the  Stanford  Museum,*  the  Parmelian 
Prints — fortunately  it  was  a  very  good  set.   Only  one  or  two  had 
begun  to  turn  slightly. 

What  does  the  word  "Parmelian"  mean? 

Nothing.   The  publisher  didn't  want  to  use  the  word  "photograph," 
so  she  concocted  this  little  kind  of  a  bastard  combination  of  Greek 
terms  from  black — "melios."  I  don't  even  think  that  is  an  accurate 
use  of  the  term,  but  she  liked  it,  so  it  was  used. 

Of  course,  it's  a  trick,  because  not  meaning  anything,  people 
remember  it.  [Laughter]   But  as  she  wouldn't  use  the  word  "photograph" 
there  had  to  be  some  other  name.   People  were  so  scared  of  photography. 

She  was  Jean  Chambers  Moore . 
brought  into  it? 

Who  was  she?  How  did  she  happen  to  be 


She  was  a  lady  in  the  book  world,  a  friend  of  Albert  Bender's.   He 
told  her  that  he  was  going  to  subsidize  this;  would  she  publish  it? 
We  didn't  realize  then  that  we  could  have  done  it  ourselves — a  thing 
as  small  as  that.   But  she  did  handle  it.   She  received  the  checks 
and  deposited  them  and  took  a  percentage — that's  about  all  she  did. 
[Laughter]   She  was  all  right,  but  timid,  you  see;  wouldn't  say 
"photographs."  And  1^  was  very  severely  criticized  for  that.   I 
should  have  stood  by  my  guns,  but  I  said,  "Well,  my  guns  would  have 
been  spiked  immediately  because  if  I'd  insisted  on  'photographs'  she 
wouldn't  have  done  it."  You  see,  that's  forty-five  years  ago. 

Do  you  remember  Joseph  Le  Conte's  review  of  that  in  the  Sierra  Club 

*The  exhibit  of  this  1927  portfolio  of  photographs  by  Ansel  Adams 
opened  on  February  20,  1972. 


Adams:   No,  I  don't. 

Teiser:   Eighteen  prints  [reading]  "of  exquisite  composition,  each  as 
technically  perfect  as  it  is  possible  to  be  produced." 

Adams :   Oh . 

Teiser:   [Reading]   "The  fact  that  they  are  the  handiwork  of  Ansel  Adams  is 
sufficient  to  guarantee  their  artistic  perfection  to  members  of  our 

He  thought  the  most  remarkable  was  Mount  Brewer.   It  was  over 
six  miles  away,  he  wrote,  and  it  was  taken  with  a  "telephotographic 
lens."   [Reading]   "The  artist  has  attempted,  and  with  great  success, 
to  suggest  the  scenery  of  the  Sierra  Nevada  in  a  more  pictorial  sense 
than  by  a  literal  representation.   By  keeping  to  a  simple  and  rather 
austere  style,  the  prints  assume  a  dignity  and  beauty  which  is  not 
generally  conveyed  by  photography." 

Adams:   Well,  that's  nice.  [Laughs] 

He  was  a  very  broad  man.   It's  important  to  realize  that  a  man 
of  that  degree  of  culture  and  understanding  was  interested  in  the 
mountains.   He  did  thousands  of  pictures,  and  I  printed  many  of  them, 
as  records  of  his  travels  in  the  Sierra.   They  were  completely 
uninspired  but  perfectly  honest  photographs.   Other  people  couldn't 
tell  the  difference  between  his  approach  and  my  approach,  but  he  was 
sensitive  enough  to  realize  that  I  was  trying  to  add  something.   I 
thought  that  was  a  very  generous  thing,  because  I  definitely  was 
adding  a  point  of  view,  where  he  was  interested  in  the  scientific 
and  the  factual. 

Teiser:   By  then  had  you  been  with  him  in  the  mountains? 
Adams:   Oh  yes,  I'd  go  out  on  trips  with  the  family. 
Teiser:   So  he'd  watched  you  take  pictures. 

Adams:   Oh  yes.   And  I  watched  himl   He  was  a  wonderful  little  man  and  a  dear 
friend.   In  fact,  there's  a  book  coming  out  now — his  journal.   I 
forget  the  name  of  the  publisher. 

Teiser:   Lewis  Osborne. 

Adams:   Yes,  Osborne.   I  wrote  the  preface  for  that.*  He  asked  me  questions 
I  couldn't  remember. 

*Joseph  N.  LeConte,  A  Summer  of  Travel  in  the  High  Sierra  .  Ashland, 
Oregon:  Lewis  Osborne,  1972, 


Noskowiak,  Weston,  Swift,  Holder,  Kanaga,  and  Lavenson 

Teiser:   Well,  back  to  f/64.   Sonia  Noskowiak. 

Adams:  She  was  a  very  nice  gal.  A  great  friend  of  Edward  Weston' s.  They 
lived  together  for  quite  a  while.  And  of  course,  like  most  of  the 
people  who  worked  with  Edward,  she  was  deeply  influenced  in  seeing 
and  technique.  I  think  she's  still  living. 

I  think  she  didn't  have  as  much  force  as  some  of  the  others. 
She  was  so  dominated  by  Edward,  she  just — grabbed  the  style  without 
the  substance.   But  I  have  seen  some  very  excellent  pictures  that 
she  did  when  she  was  more  herself.   She  was  a  lovable  person  in  many 

You  see,  the  instrument  that  was  used  in  the  classic  sense  was 
the  eight  by  ten  camera,  and  the  contact  print — the  eight-ten  format 
religiously  adhered  to.   Everything  squeezed  into  eight  by  ten,  not 
seven  by  ten,  but  eight  by  ten,  and  of  course  nature  isn't  exactly 
built  that  way.   Sometimes  it  becomes  difficult  to  get  something 
that  really  is  a  6  2/3  by  10  proportion  in  the  world  and  then  try  to 
make  it  eight  by  ten.   You  know,  it's  like  buying  canvasses  20  by  34 
and  filling  them,  which  of  course  you  can  do  as  a  painter  because 
you  can  "adjust."  But  I  have  a  terrible  time  when  people  say,  "I 
want  a  20  by  24  'print'  of  a  subject."  Well,  that's  a  category;  and 
I  try  to  bring  one  dimension,  if  the  photograph  is  a  vertical,  to 
20  inches.   I  try  to  make  one  dimension  as  large  as  I  can.   And  then 
it  might  be  36  or  30  or  26  [in  the  other  dimension].  So  they  say, 
"It's  not  20  by  24,"  and  I  try  to  explain  that  this  is  a  category 
and  not  based  on  square  inches.   I  think  it's  Moulin  in  San  Francisco 
that  charges  for  photo  murals  by  the  square  inch,  which  to  me  is  one 
of  the  funniest  things  in  the  world,  because  paper  comes  in  a  roll. 
And  what  do  you  do  with  the  little  stuff  you  trim  off?  Like  I  made 
eight  prints  the  other  day  in  the  so-called  20  by  24  category.   (It 
was  actually  fifteen — there  were  some  in  the  ashcan,  and  two  more 
went  today,  so  I  have  six  left.)  Well,  the  cost  of  the  paper's  so 
minor  compared  to  the  workl 

I  suppose  it's  a  very  small  amount  per  square  inch,  you  know, 
so  it  looks  good,  and  nobody's  going  to  sit  down  and  figure  it  all 
out.   If  it  were  one  cent  a  square  inch,  it  would  be  $1.44  a  square 
foot,  you  see.   And  if  it  was  three  by  five  feet  it  would  be  about 
$22.50!   But  the  price  might  be  seven  hundred  dollars!   I've  had  a 
man  who  was  so  captious  about  it  that  I  sent  him  a  check  for  $1.18, 
which  was  the  differential  cost  of  the  paper.  [Laughter]  As  close 
as  I  could  figure. 


Adams:    Anyway,  let's  get  back  to  f/64.   I  don't  know  too  much  about 

Noskowiak.   I  don't  know  where  she  is.   I'd  like  to  follow  through; 
I  was  very  fond  of  her.   She  was  the  subject  of  many  of  Edward's 
nudes,  in  what  they  call  (it's  not  delicate  to  say  it,  but)  the 
"scrawny"  period.   I  mean,  she  was  rather  lean  and  posed  in  very 
vigorous  attitudes.   And  I  called  those  pictures  "morguesque," 
because  they  were  printed  rather  gray,  and  they  didn't  have  that 
wonderful  luminance  of  what  he  did  with  Tina  Modotti  and  others  in 

There's  something  about  the  photographic  print,  the  pure  black 
image,  that  can  be  very  cold,  and  I'm  trying  to  break  away  from 
that  with  subtle  selenium  tones.   It  makes  quite  an  emotional 
difference.   Maybe  a  little  four  by  five  print  that  is  just  blue- 
black;  it's  a  little  frigid  and  when  it  relates  to  a  nude.... It 
might  be  all  right  for  a  rock,  but  it's  all  a  matter  of  complex 

Teiser:   Henry  Swift. 

Adams:    Henry  Swift  was  a  businessman  and  founded  Henry  F.  Swift  &  Company, 
a  big  bond  house — stocks  and  bonds.   It's  still  going.  And 
Florence  Swift  was  a  painter.   They  were  very  charming  people.   And 
he  was  full  of  vim  and  vigor,  and  did  a  lot  of  experimental  work, 
but  the  thing  that  got  him  into  the  Group  f/64  was  the  series  of 
pictures  he  did  of  mathematical  models  at  the  University.   They  had 
made  models  of  equations — three-dimensional  equations — in  plaster, 
sometimes  outlined  with  string  and  glass.   And  he  photographed  these, 
and  they're  extremely  beautiful — extremely  beautiful. 

Teiser:   Perhaps  that  was  what  one  of  the  exhibition  reviewers  mentioned  as 

Adams:    Yes.   Now,  here's  an  interesting  thing:   there's  nothing  more 

abstract  than  a  three-dimensional  mathematical  model,  but  he  makes 
a  photograph  of  it,  it's  still  a  photograph  of  the  model.   So  you 
see  it  would  give  a  superficial  impression  of  being  a  photographic 

Well,  I  don't  know  what  else  Swift  did.   I  think  he  tried  some 
things  like  mud  cracks — a  few  things.   But  he  was  really  quite  a 
nice  person.   I  think  he  left  photography  rather  early.   He  also  had 
some  money  and  helped  us  out  with  some  of  our  material  expenses, 
although  we  got  by  with  this  whole  thing  at  a  very  low  cost — an 
amazingly  low  outlay.   Everybody  did  their  own  work,  and  we  chipped 
in  on  the  announcements.   It's  an  ideal  system — but  scary  at  times! 


Adams:    What's  the  next  thing  you  have? 

Teiser:   Well,  there  were  the  four  people  who  exhibited  with  you.   Preston 

Adams:    I've  not  seen  Preston  Holder,  and  I  don't  know  what  he's  doing,  but 
he  was  pretty  good.   I  don't  remember  his  being  outstanding,  but  he 
was  terribly  sincere.   I  think  we  really  got  these  people  on  the 
basis  of  their  sincerity.   They  all  were  really  tied  up  with  the 
work,  and  loved  it. 

Teiser:   He  didn't  go  on  to  become  a  professional  photographer? 
Adams:    Not  that  I  know  of,  no. 
Teiser:    Consuelo  Kanaga. 

Adams:    They  all  called  her  "Connie."  She  was  very  good.   She  was  very 
imaginative,  very  romantic,  did  some  beautiful  portraits,  was  a 
little  overshadowed  by  Dorothea  Lange.   Dorothea  Lange  never  quite 
forgave  us  for  not  getting  her  in  the  group.   She  at  that  time  was 
so  pictorial  and  so  fuzzy-wuzzy  that  it  never  occurred  to  us.   And 
I  really  regretted  it  later  after  seeing  more  of  her  work.  At  that 
time  it  certainly  should  have  been  considered,  but.... 

Harroun:   Was  she  doing  mostly  portraits  at  that  time? 

Adams:    She  did  portraits  and  worked  with  some  Navajo  Indians.   Maynard 
Dixon,  her  husband,  was  deeply  involved  with  the  Indians  and  the 
Southwest.   I  think  she  and  Consuelo  were  in  competition,  frankly. 
I  think  it  was  kind  of  a  stylistic  competition,  as  well  as  in  the 
portrait  business. 

Teiser:   They  were  both  in  the  same  immediate  field? 

Adams :    Yes . 

Teiser:   Alma  Lavenson. 

Adams:    Well,  she  lived  in  Piedmont,  and  she  was,  I  think  you  would  say, 

kind  of  the  Julia  Margaret  Cameron  of  Berkeley.   I  mean,  she  tried 
very  hard — [laughter].   That's  a  cruel  statement. 

Teiser:    It  gives  the  idea. 

Adams:    I  assumed  that  she  had  means  and  she  could  do  what  she  wanted.   And 
then  she  married  a  nice  man  named  Wahrhaftig — but  that  was  quite 
late,  and  I  think  he's  dead  now.   But  she  did  pictures  of  the  Mother 
Lode  country  which  were  really  quite  superior.   As  I  say,  I  don't 


Adams:    know  about  her  business  status  or  whether  she  just  lived  on  what  she 
had  or  whether  she  did  any  professional  work. 

Brett  Weston  and  Edward  Weston 



Then  Brett  Weston  was  the  last  one. 
he  making  then? 

What  sort  of  photographs  was 



He  was  relatively  young,  and  he  was  very  much  under  the  domination 
of  his  father.   So  he  was  influenced  technically  and  visually  by 
his  father's  work.   Not  imitating  him,  you  understand  what  I  mean, 
because  Brett  was  always  a  strong  individual.   And  Brett  steadily 
progressed  to  become  one  of  the  very  best  of  the  "younger" 
photographers,  but  he's  sixty-something  now.   And  his  latest  work 
with  the  2  1/4  by  2  1/4  format  is  simply  superb.   He  is  now  secure 
in  his  own  expressive  domain.   But  the  domination  of  the  old  man 
was  not  intentional  and  Edward  didn't  like  it,  but  there  it  was.   I, 
in  fact,  was  probably  one  of  the  very  few  that  were  not  dominated  by 
Edward.   I  mean  I  used  much  of  the  same  equipment  and  materials,  but 
I  always  saw  things  very  differently. 

Mrs.  Newhall  writes  in  her  book  that  the  first  time  you  met  Eward 
Weston  you  didn't  like  his  work  particularly.   Is  this  true? 

Yes,  it's  true.   I  didn't  react.   It  was — well,  you  have  to  get  a 
little  perspective  on  Edward.   Edward  was  a  portrait  photographer 
in  Glendale  who  really  went  for  the  trade,  as  they  say.   I  mean  he 
did  soft-focus  pictures  of  ladies  and  shadows  against  the  wall,  and 
a  peculiar  quality  of  pictorialism  that  was  sometimes  quite  goofy. 
And  it  bothered  me  because  it  seemed  very  mannered  and  very  much 
"Hollywood,"  as  I  knew  it.  (You  know,  "Hollywood"  is  a  term  that 
covers  a  million  different  places  at  once.) 

He  was  a  very  nice  man,  and  I  met  him  and  the  boys — I  think  two 
of  them — at  Albert  Bender's.   But  he  was  just  making  the  transition. 
And  the  prints,  to  me,  were  kind  of  chemically  green — what  they  call 
commercial  paper  color.  You  still  get  that  color;  I  have  to  use 
selenium  to  overcome  it.   And  I  felt  there  was  a  kind  of  a  sterility 
about  it,  and  I  fought  it  for  several  years.  And  then  after  I  saw 
Strand's  negatives  and  realized  what  straight  photography  could  be, 
I  gradually  came  to  realize  more  and  more  what  Edward  was  trying  to 
do.   Edward  had  made  vast  steps  forward  in  those  several  years.  He 
was  more  generous  to  me  than  I  was  to  him  in  the  beginning,  by  far. 
I  finally  realized  that  some  of  this  work  was  really  what  we're  all 
after  in  our  own  way.   So  about  1931  or  '30  we  became  very  close 
friends,  and  at  the  time  of  his  death  we  were  very  close,  I  think 


Adams:    really  close  in  understanding  and  sympathy.   He  never  depended  on 
anybody — he  wasn't  that  kind  of  a  man.   I  guess  I  would  be  one  of 
the  few  people  he  was  glad  to  have  around  when  he  needed  them.   It's 
a  feeling.   He  was  very  individualistic,  and  absolutely  honest,  and 
he  flagellated  himself  in  his  living.   He  wouldn't  compromise  one 
bit.   He  used  to  say  that  doing  a  photograph  on  a  commission  is 
kind  of  prostitution.   And  I  said,  "What  about  the  portraits?" 
"Well,"  he  said,  "that's  just  dating,"  and  he  used  to  laugh.  [Laughs] 

But  in  the  depths  of  the  Depression,  Albert  Bender  was  keeping 
all  his  friends  going;  he  got  a  job  for  Edward  from  the  MJB  coffee 
people,  the  Branstens.   They  were  really  very  wonderful  and  generous 
people — one  of  these  really  great  San  Francisco  Jewish  families,  you 
know.   I  doubt  if  there's  ever  been  anything  like  the  families. 
There  were  a  dozen  of  them,  and  they  were  the  most  generous  and  out 
going  and  intelligent  people  I  have  ever  known.   And  they  said,  "Well, 
of  course  we'll  give  him  a  job.   We  have  wanted  quality  pictures. 
Just  have  advertisements  of  a  beautiful  white  china  cup  of  coffee 
(and  set),  and  just  say,  'Photograph  by  Edward  Weston  for  MJB'." 
This  is  called  an  institutional  ad,  you  see.   And  they  had  this 
beautiful  set  of  English  china — pure  white.   So  they  got  that  to  the 
studio  and  all  the  coffee  he  could  make.  All  he  had  to  do  was  to 
create  compositions.   It  was  entirely  up  to  him.  There  was  no  re 
striction  and  no  "copy"  with  it. 

He  worked  on  that  thing  for  two  or  three  weeks  and  finally  he 
called  them  up  and  said,  "I  can't  do  it.   It  doesn't  mean  anything 
to  me."  It's  a  very  interesting  thing,  because  the  professional 
photographer,  you  see,  lives  like  an  architect,  on  his  clients.   I 
mean,  you  want  to  build  a  house,  well,  I  build  the  house  for  you. 
I  try  to  keep  my  standards,  but  still  I  try  to  figure  out  what  you 
need.   But  Edward  just  couldn't  do  that.   To  him,  putting  a  beautiful 
piece  of  porcelain  and  arranging  it  any  way  he  wanted,  and  putting 
coffee  in  it  black — you  know,  typical,  wonderful  for  his  work — he 
couldn't  do  it. 

And  they  all  understood!   They  understood  perfectly.   He'd 
done  six  or  seven  for  them,  and  they  said,  "Well,  we'll  buy  these 
whether  we  use  them  or  not,  and  we  understand  perfectly.   You've 
been  perfectly  honest."  That  was  quite  an  event,  and  a  credit  to 
the  Branstens. 

He  did  a  series  of  pictures  for  the  publication  of  Leaves  of 
Grass — Random  House.   And  he  also  did  some  pictures  of  the  West  for 
the  Automobile  Club  of  Southern  California.   But  that  was  still  his 
work.   They  were  buying  his  creative  work.   They  weren't  giving  him 
an  external  assignment. 


Adams:   Brett  has  always  more  or  less  carried  that  theory  out.   It's  fine  if 
it's  what  he  wants  to  do  as  an  easel  painter,  without  any  strictures- 
if  they  can  use  it. 

I  think  that's  a  great  idea,  too.   You  have  to  make  a  living, 
though.   You  can  adjust.   In  fact,  I  told  Brett,  "Well,  after  all, 
Michelangelo  painted  the  popes."  "Well,"  Brett  said,  "that's  not 
the  way  I  would  do  it." 

You  come  across  all  kinds  of  confusions  and  strange  personal 
quirks  in  this  photographic  world.   Stieglitz  never  did  any  commis 
sions;  Strand  never  did,  except  for  some  social  movements.   [Eliot] 
Porter  has  never  done  anything  for  professional  commercial 
assignment,  to  my  knowledge;  he  writes  his  own  assignments.   He  can 
afford  to. 

Applied  Photography 

Adams:   I've  done  everything  from  morgue  photography  and  surgical 

photography  [laughs]  to  commercial  advertisements  and  architecture. 

Teiser:   You've  done  surgical  photography? 

Adams:   Yes,  I've  done  quite  a  lot  of  surgical  photography.   Very  interesting. 

Teiser:   I  should  think  so. 

Adams:   Not  creative.   It's  a  sheer  absolute — it  has  to  be  good,  you  know — 

clear.   And  I  did  some  movies  once;  it  was  quite  an  experience.   Very 
poor  stuff. 

[End  Tape  5,  Side  1] 
[Begin  Tape  5,  Side  2] 

Adams:   Well,  I'm  a  peculiar  mixture,  and  one  of  the  few  I  know  of  that 

combined  the  professional  life  with  the  creative  life.   That  would  be 
a  very  important  thing,  I  think,  in  the  future,  to  find  out  how  many 
people  would  do  that.   The  only  reason  I  got  by  with  it  was  that  I 
had  some  wonderful  breaks  and  great  clients. 

I  did  many  catalogues  for  the  [San  Francisco]  museums,  pictures 
of  paintings  and  sculptures,  and  I  did,  oh,  a  lot  of  architectural 
work.   I  think  one  of  my  biggest  projects  was  the  series  of 
photographs  of  Maurice  Sterne's  murals  in  the  Department  of  Justice, 
which  were  produced  as  original  prints.   We  made  quite  a  few  port 
folios  of  these.   Then  Albert  Bender  had  acquired  a  very  handsome  set 


Adams:   of  Chinese  carvings — marbles — and  we  did  limited  editions  of  that. 

And,  as  I  say,  I'd  have  an  advertising  job  and  an  architectural  job, 
and  I'd  have  a  surgery  job,  and  a  portrait  now  and  then. 

I  think  the  worst  surgical  job  I  had  I  was  on  the  platform,  very 
high.   And  operating  rooms  get  very  hot,  and  I  was  not  bothered  at  all 
by  the  operation;  this  was  one  of  these  breast  resections  with  an 
electric  knife.   Well,  the  combination  of  the  anesthetic  [laughter] 
and  the  heat,  and  the  peculiar  smoky  effluvia  of  burning  epidermis! 
And  here  I  was  up  there — it  must  have  been  ninety- some thing  degrees, 
hanging  over  this  tripod.   And  that's  the  only  time  I  really  had 
trouble,  because  I  just  needed  oxygen,  you  know.  [Laughs] 

Then,  during  the  War,  my  last  days  in  Los  Angeles  at  Art  Center 
School,  we  had  a  small  group  who  went  and  worked  with  the  Civil 
Defense  group,  and  one  of  the  problems  was  the  hypothetical 
identification  of  corpses,  should  there  be  an  attack.   How  do  you 
identify  them?  So  I  worked  out  a  system  using  a  mirror.   And  we'd 
make  a  photograph  of  the  victim,  but  he'd  be  in  a  mirror  so  you  would 
get  the  full  face  as  well  as  the  profile.   Now  the  full  face,  then, 
had  to  be  and  could  be  easily  reversed  in  the  enlargement.  We  would 
go  over  to  the  Los  Angeles  morgue  and  make  these  photographs. 

Oh,  they  got  into  all  kinds  of  situations.   I  remember  one  time 
they  wheeled  this  old  character  out — he  was  a  drunk,  he  may  have 
passed  out  for  good.   They  lifted  him  off  the  table,  threw  him  on 
the  floor  and  gave  him  a  kick  with  the  foot  and  said,  "Now  this  is 
probably  the  way  it  looks  after  a  bomb  attack."  So  after  you  got 
over  that,  you  figure  out,  "Well,  here  he  is.   The  figure's  lying 
there,  and  how  do  you  get  the  camera  in  and  what  focal  length  lens, 
and  what  adjustments  to  get  his  profile,  and  what  lighting?"  That 
information  could  be  very  valuable,  even  if  very  morbid  I 

My  last  session  there  was  through  at  ten-thirty  p.m.  and  I  had 
my  car  all  loaded  up  and  I  drove  right  up  to  Edward  Weston's  in 
Carmel,   and  got  there  in  the  late  morning  and  was  absolutely 
exhausted.   And,  oh  boy,  I  still  smelled  of  formaldehyde.'   Edward 
says,  "Whew,  where  you  been,  Lazarus?"  [Laughter]   Funny.   So  he 
made  a  photograph  of  me.   (I  now  have  a  beard.)   I  was  looking  very 
weird,  very  tired,  but  then  I  was  through  with  Los  Angeles,  thank 
goodness — and  then  I  went  on  to  Manzanar. 

Giving  Photography  Museum  Status 

Adams:   Well,  now,  how  about  the — any  other  names  to  consider  there? 

Teiser:   Those  were  all  the  names  I  had  in  connection  with  f/64.   Were  there 
other  people  who  also  exhibited  with  you  in  later  periods? 


Adams:   No.   But  what  I  wanted  to  say — I  think  I  may  have  mentioned  it 
before — was  the  fact  that  we  existed  only  for  a  short  time. 

Teiser:  You  mentioned  that  you  made  a  manifesto.   Was  it  published  anywhere? 

Adams:   I  think  it  was  published  in  a  magazine  somewhere,  or  on  the  museum 
wall.   That's  where  it  really  was.   But  Weston  had  decided  that  we 
could  very  easily  create  a  cult  or  be  typed,  you  see,  by  continuing 
this — this  f/64 — into  a  continuing  thing.   So  we  voted  to  disband, 
and  in  one  sense  it's  one  of  the  most  healthy  things  you  can  imagine 
in  not  perpetuating  a  cult  or  an  idea  or  an  association,  because  all 
of  us  could  have  been  very  easily  tied  in  then  with  a  "school" — you 
know  what  I  mean.   Edward  Weston  school,  West  Coast  school. 

Now  we  still  are  in  that  mess,  but  it's  not  intentional.   So 
many  of  us  are  criticized  as  being  just  a  continuation  of  this  old 
"West  Coast"  school.   Well,  of  course,  nothing  could  be  further  from 
the  truth,  see.   Our  Friends  of  Photography  has  covered  many,  many 
facets  of  photography — the  most  contemporary  back  to  historic.   It's 
surprising  anyone  should  get  labeled  these  days,  but  they  do. 

Teiser:   Well,  this  was  one  of  the  other  things  I  was  interested  in  about 
Group  f/64,  that  it  has  had  such  a  very  long-lasting  effect. 

Adams:    It  had  a  tremendous  impact.   There  was  no  plan  to  have  an  impact. 
Well,  I  guess  we  thought  we  would  help,  but  I  mean,  we  had  no  idea 
at  all  what  would  happen.   And  within  that  year  it  influenced  the 
whole  course  of  American  photography. 

Teiser:   Do  you  think  it  was  in  any  way  what  they  call  an  idea  whose  time  had 

Adams:   Yes,  I  think  absolutely  it  was  that.   It  was  a  group  of  young  people, 
and  they  weren't  radical  activists  as  you  have  today.   They  didn't 
spend  their  time  figuring  out  ways  of  doing  things.   They  figured 
out  more  the  doing  of  them.   And  it  was  this  problem  of  being 
dedicated  to  the  idea. 

The  idea  of  closing  f/64  off,  very  short  duration,  was  the 
healthiest  thing  we  could  do,  because  we  weren't  any  kind  of  a  formal 
organization.   We  had  no  offices,  we  had  no  board,  we  weren't 
"founded."  We  were  just  a  very  informal  group.   And  Willard 
[Van  Dyke]  and  I,  I  guess,  were  the  ones  who  did  most  of  the 
activating  and  planning  of  things.   There  were  others  who  did  much 
too.   But  there's  always  a  few  that  take,  you  know,  more  credit  than 

Harroun:   What  part  did  Edward  Weston  play? 

Was  he  really  interested  in  it 


Adams:   He  contributed.   He  didn't  do  much  to  the  concept — he  just  agreed 
and  contributed.  Most  of  us  did  that.   But  there  was  always  some 
body  who  had  to  do  the  telephoning  and  sending  out  the  cards. 

Teiser:  Who  actually  chose  the  prints  for  the  exhibit? 

Adams:   That  was  the  group.  We  sent  out  cards  to  all  the  members.   I  think 
Willard  did  it  or  I  did  it  or  we  both  did  it,  I  forget.   Willard  did 
more  than  I  did.   We  said  we  have  an  opportunity  for  a  show,  and  now 
we'll  all  meet  when  we  can,  and  gave  some  dates.   And  they  all  met 
over  at  Brockhurst  or  at  my  place.   I  think  we  met  twice.   And  we 
picked  out  a  set  of  pictures  for  the  show  and  then  the  director — his 
name  was  [Lloyd]  Rollins — a  very  sympathetic,  wonderful  guy — he 
helped  us  design  the  show.   And  he  threw  out  the  baddies  and  kept  in 
the  goodies.   You  know  it's  always  very  important  to  have  an  objective 
analysis  from  the  outside.   In  other  words,  if  I'm  going  to  have  a 
show  I  never  would  put  it  up  myself.   I  might  pick  out  a  hundred 
pictures  that  I  like  and  that  I  wanted  up  and  then  say,  "Well  now, 
we've  got  to  get  sixty  out  of  these."  Nancy  Newhall  did  that  big 
show  in  1963.   I  was  terribly  upset  because  there  were  a  few  of  my 
favorites  that  were  not  in  it.   And  when  the  show  was  up  I  realized 
why  they  weren't  in  there — repetitive.   She  was  absolutely  right  I 

And  the  same  with  selecting  portfolios.   For  Portfolio  Five, 
which  is  ten  prints,  we  had  twenty  potentials.   And  we'd  just  show 
them  to  people  and  talk  and  say,  "Now  what's  your  reaction?"  And 
I  would  see  their  points  of  view,  and  I  got  it  down  to  ten  prints. 
And  it  was  very  good  because  of  that,  better  than  if  I  had  just  made 
the  selection  myself.  Many  photographers  don't  do  that.   They  feel 
that  they're  the  only  ones  that  can  judge  their  own  work.   But  a  lot 
of  things  are  done  on  the  emotion  of  the  moment,  and  it's  awfully 
hard  for  the  artist  to  have  an  objective  point  of  view. 

In  fact  I'm  thinking  now  of  putting  in  Portfolio  Six  two 
pictures  that  were  done  in  the  twenties.   They  really  have  an  impact. 
It  took  this  long  to  find  it  out.  [Laughs] 

Teiser:  Was  Group  f/64's  a  big  show? 

Adams:   No,  no.   I  think  there  were — oh  my — seventy  or  eighty  prints,  in 
that  area — maybe  less. 

Teiser:   Rollins  was  interested  in  photography,  was  he? 

Adams:   He  was.   He  was  simply  marvelous.   If  it  hadn't  been  for  Rollins, 

I  don't  think  we  could  have  ever  gotten  the  show,  ever  got  recognition. 
Because  he  was  young  and  he  was  very  much  ahead  of  his  time  and  very 


Teiser:   It  seems  to  me  that  as  late  as  the  fifties,  the  photographic 

magazines  were  complaining  that  museums  didn't  recognize  photography. 
But  we've  been  doing  it  in  San  Francisco  for  quite  a  long  time. 

Adams:   Yes,  I  think  we  were  one  of  the  very  first.   Well,  I  won't  say  that — 
the  Buffalo  Institute  of  Art  [the  Albright  Art  Gallery]  gave  the 
Photo-Secession  show  [in  1910].   But  there  were  very,  very  few  shows. 
The  Metropolitan  had  some  prints.   They  still  have  some  interest.   I 
just  got  a  letter  the  other  day  (relative  to  my  forthcoming  exhibit 
in  April  1974)  saying  they'd  like  me  to  conform  to  their  mount  sizes 
because  they  have  the  frames  for  them.   My  god,  they're  spending 
$25,000  on  a  show,  and  they're  worried  about  a  few  lousy  frames  and 
mats,  14  1/4  by  19  1/2,  or  something.   Throws  the  whole  thing  out  of 
kilter.  [Laughter]   God]   But  I  think  I  can  get  over  that  all  right. 

But  things  are  institutionalized.   And  out  here  they  were  hung 
under  glass  and  people  had  their  own  size  mats,  and  we  all  had 
different  size  mats  in  mind.   Your  mat  is  part  of  your  vision,  I 
mean.   But  you  go  to  the  Metropolitan  and  other  museums  and  you'll 
see  little  things  this  big,  you  know,  in  a  14  by  19  mat,  I  mean, 
because  that  goes  into  the  frame.  [Laughter] 

One  of  the  important  things  is  that  museums  were  scared.   It's 
the  art  groups — painting  and  sculpture  groups  that  scalped  photography. 
They  didn't  want  to  confront  these  "new"  people.   Now  you  had  that 
same  thing  in  San  Francisco,  my  beloved  home  city.   The  artists 
there  have  been  very  negative  to  photography.   In  fact  to  the  point 
of — almost  sometimes  just  wishing  they  could  cancel  things  out.   Due 
to  Mr.  Eldridge  T.  Spencer,  when  he  became  president  of  the  Art 
Association, *after  the  War  [World  War  II],  he  was  able  to  promote 
a  department  of  photography.   There  was  great  opposition  from  the 
"art"  people,  Art  Association  people,  I  should  say.   But  he  put  it 
through,  and  I  went  out  and  got  ten  thousand  dollars  from  the 
Columbia  Foundation  and  we  started.   We  had  a  wonderful  department. 
He  was  happy  and  I  was  happy.**  But  whenever  we  tried  to  get  a  gallery 
to  do  something  with  our  work,  the  painters  were  there  first.   Maybe 
the  artists  weren't  really  afraid  of  us.   They  were  just  jealous  of 
time,  space,  and  money. 

And  the  majority  of  painters  today,  I  think,  look  on  photography 
as  an  intruder.   Very  few  painters  I  know  have  any  interest  in  it  or 
any  sympathy  for  it.  We  have  more  sympathy  for  them  by  a  hundred 
times.   I  was  asked  to  put  on  a  show  at  the  San  Francisco  Museum  of 
Art  in  October  1973.   It  was  supposed  to  be  a  very  important  show. 
And  they  put  on  a  big  song  and  dance  about  it.   It  was  to  be 
coincidental  with  the  reopening  of  the  museum — the  whole  museum  is 
being  redecorated,  reorganized.   I  said,  "Well  now,  I  want  a 
description  of  the  gallery  space  so  I  can  start  thinking."  They 
said,  "Well,  it's  going  to  be  in  the  corridor.   The  corridor's  going 
to  be  improved."  And  I  said,  "Nuts  to  that,"  in  not  exactly  the  same 

*The  San  Francisco  Art  Association. 

**See  also  pp.  374-375  and  other  references  to  the  California  School 

of  Fine  Arts  as  indexed. 


Adams : 

Adams : 

Teiser : 

Adams : 

words.   I  said,  "If  I'm  having  an  exhibit,  I'm  having  a  gallery  or 
else."  I  was  thinking  about  myself  and  photography.   I  mean,  if  this 
was,  as  they  said,  an  important  show,  then  it  deserved  a  gallery.   I 
wouldn't  mind  in  the  least  having  my  pictures  in  a  group  thing  in  the 
corridor  if  they're  going  to  bring  out  part  of  their  collection  and 
put  it  in  the  corridor.   Well,  that's  all  right.   But  when  you  have  a 
show,  an  exhibit,  and  it's  an  important  one,  and  it's  an  artist — 
somebody  who's  achieved  a  certain  level  of  distinction,  and  that's 
what  they  tell  you,  and  they  want  that,  I  don't  want  it  in  the 
corridor.   I  mean,  it's  just  a  matter  of — I  guess  you'd  call  it 

That's  where  they  hang  most  of  the  photographs  at  the  museum — 

Yes.   It-'s  terrible — awful  light.   Well,  they're  fixing  it  up  a 
little  better,  but  they  still  don't  know  anything  about  light.   They 
won't  listen.   I  can  give  them  a  mathematical  formula — so  many  foot 
candles,  so  many  candles  per  square  foot,  environmental  percentage, 
all  of  that  has  been  worked  out.   It's  baby  talk.   And  yet  I  know  the 
last  diagram  I  saw  of  the  gallery,  the  lights  were  no  higher  than  here 
at  home.   There  won't  be  enough  light  on  it.   "Well,  double  the 
lighting."  "Well,  we  can't.   The  circuits  won't  stand  it."  "Well, 
double  the  circuits."  "We  haven't  got  the  money."  [Laughter]   God! 

So  this  whole  proposition  of  struggling  to  get  recognition  for 
photography ... .I'll  gladly  put  myself  down  for  photography  as  a 
whole,  and  if  all  they  had  was  a  corridor  and  there  wasn't  anything 
else,  well,  that  would  be  all  right.   I  mean,  you're  often  shown  in 
terrible  situations.   But  part  of  the  f/64  objective  was  to  give 
photography  museum  dignity.   In  other  words,  if  it's  good,  it's  good 
enough  to  show  it  in  a  museum.   Painting,  and  etching,  and 
lithography,  and  drawings  and  photography.   The  Metropolitan  Museum 
now  has  a  division  called  the  Department  of  Prints  and  Photography 
in  the  Department  of  Art.   Well,  that's  a  step — they  at  least  use  the 

The  first  photographic  prints  in  American  photography,  did  they  show 
in  galleries  early? 

No.   And  I  can't  give  you  a  detailed  account,  but  I  think  the  Photo- 
Secession  show  was  the  very  first  one  to  have  a  museum  show.   Now, 
Beaumont  Newhall  could  tell  you  that;  I  can't.  But  there  were 
damned  few  and  far  between.   Not  until  Newhall  became  interested  in 
photography  at  the  Museum  of  Modern  Art  in  the  thirties  and  forties. 
San  Francisco  and  the  f/64  came  first,  and  then  the  Museum  of  Modern 
Art  had  a  series  of  photograph  exhibits  after  that. 

In  1933  I  went  to  Yale  and  had  a  letter  to  Dean  [Everett  V.] 
Meeks.   And  Dean  Meeks  was  a  very  charming,  rotund  gentleman,  and  he 


Adams:   looked  at  my  pictures  and  said,  "Why,  remarkable,  remarkable, 

remarkable!"  And  I  had  a  print  about  this  big  [gesture].   He  said, 
"That's  one  of  the  most  beautiful  things  I've  ever  seen.   What's 
it  of?"  I  said,  "Foliage  at  Mills  College."  He  said,  "You  don't 
understand.   What's  it  of — what  tapestry?"  And  I  said,  "It's  a 
photograph  of  nature."  And  he  looked  at  me  and  he  said,  "Well,  now, 
I  don't — I  just  haven't  made  myself  clear.   What  work  of  art  is  that 
a  representation  of?  What  did  you  do  that  of?"  And  I  says,  "I  took 
it  of  a  bunch  of  weeds.'"  [Laughs]   I  was  just  out  of  my  mind!   I  mean 
I  couldn't  believe  this  man — I  said,  again,  "These  are  all  photographs 
not  of  paintings  or  drawings  or  anything,  but  they're  photographs  of 
nature."  "Well,  that's  remarkable,  you  must  show  these."* 

So  I  had  a  show  at  Yale  in  '34  or  something.   But  here  was  the 
Dean  of  Fine  Arts  at  Yale  University  who  could  not  get  through  his 
head  that  all  these  photographs  were  not  photographs  of  something  else 
somebody  had  done  on  some  graphic  medium.   He  never  thought  of  taking 
a  camera  and  photographing  a  landscape  or  a  detail  of  nature. 

Camera  Clubs,  Groups,  and  Galleries 

Teiser:   This  was  part  of  the  reason  for  all  the  camera  club  magazines  perhaps. 
They  didn't  have  anybody  else  to  show  the  pictures  to. 

Adams:   No,  they  didn't.   The  camera  club  is  a  very  interesting  thing.   It's 

primarily  a  social  get-together  of  people  interested  in  a  hobby.  Most 
camera  clubs  have  never  made  a  pretense  of  art.   The  Photographic 
Society  of  America,  of  which  I'm  a  Fellow  (I  don't  know  why),  largely 
represents  this  approach  to  photography.   They're  absolutely  divorced 
and  separate  from  the  creative  stream.   For  instance,  the  admiral — 
awful  nice  man — Admiral  [E.G.]  Forsyth  makes  just  beautiful  pictures. 
He  is  a  trustee  of  the  Friends  of  Photography,  and  his  pictures  are 
really  something.   Just  one  little  theme:   light  and  sunset,  light 
reflections  on  water,  dark/ light.   He  never  does  anything  else,  but 
he  does  it  so  well  that  I've  got  one  of  his  prints  that's  a  beautiful 
gem  in  my  collection. 

Well,  he  said  it  would  be  fine  if  we  could  have  an  article  on 
the  Friends  in  the  journal  of  the  Photographic  Society  of  America. 
And  we  had  the  article,  and  there  was  no  comment  whatsoever.   It's 
just  the  kind  of  photography  that's — it's  just  another  world.   It's 
a  sewing  bee.   They  have  a  technical  section  which  is  ridiculous. 
Anyhow,  it's  entirely  a  world  apart. 

Then  of  course,  with  the  advent  of  the  Depression  and  the  photo- 
documentarists,  you  had  another  world  apart.   We  had  the  Photo  League 

*See  also  pp.  319-320. 


Adams:   and  we  had  what  is  now  known  as  the  "concerned  photographer."  It's 
a  very  important  term,  and  you  have  to  take  it  for  what  it  means. 
It  really  means  photographers  who  are  concerned  with  our  environ 
mental  and  social  conditions.   Now  they're  concerned  with  that,  but 
that  doesn't  necessarily  make  it  creative  art.   I'm  concerned  with 
something  else  too.   I'm  supposed  to  give  a  talk  to  them  in  the 
fall,  and  that's  going  to  be  my  theme — that  my  concern  is  different 
from  theirs.   But  it's  just  as  deep  concern,  because  I  think  it 
includes  the  whole  thing.   And  of  course  I  can  go  on  and  probably 
put  myself  out  on  a  limb  very  quickly  with  it. 

Bruce  Davidson's  East  100th  Street,  that  book  he  did  on  the 
ghetto,  is  a  very  important  thing,  and  some  of  the  photographs  he 
did  are  extraordinarily  fine.   But  our  group  of  photographers  are 
interested,  no  matter  what  your  subject  is,  in  the  photograph.   I 
mean  does  it  have  an  emotional  wallop,  aesthetic  wallop,  and  is  it 
"technically  adequate"?   It  looks  better  if  it  has  a  theme,  and  I 
think  that's  one  of  the  things  that  I've  had  to  contend  with.   I've 
always  had  some  kind  of  a  theme,  whether  it's  been  conservation  or 
Japanese-American  relocation,  etc.   But  the  person  today  either 
works  with  a  definitely  social  theme,  of  minority  groups  or  the 
oppressed,  or  else  with  some  absolutely  internal,  personal  kind  of 
experience,  what  we  often  call  a  "trip." 

I  think  I  mentioned  the  other  day  the  photograph,  11  by  14 
inches,  of  a  lawn  in  which  there  was  an  out-of-focus  dog  in  the 
middle  of  it,  and  that  was  hanging  on  a  museum  wall.   Now  that  was 
a  symbol  of  something  to  the  photographer,  but  to  the  spectator, 
God  knows!  [Laughter] 

Now  there  are  groups  in  New  York,  like  the  Circle  of  Confusion — 
those  people  are  largely  technical.   They  sit  around  with  drinks  and 
dinner  and  yak,  and  they  don't  do  much  of  any  work.   All  over  the 
country  there  are  workshops  beginning  and  unfortunately  ending, 
because  they  just  don't  have  the  complete  picture  of  the  problem. 
But  they  are  important  because  they  bring  people  together  in  the 
creative  sense. 

The  sad  thing  is  the  number  of  galleries  that  are  starting  up. 
Having  had  a  gallery  myself,  I  know  whereof  I  speak.   They  have 
absolutely  no  concept  of  the  work  and  the  money  involved  in  it. 
They  have  great  enthusiasm  to  have  a  gallery.   And  they  put  in  a 
gallery  and  lights  and  put  out  an  announcement.   But  they  don't 
realize  that  running  a  gallery  takes  a  terrific  amount  of  publicity — 
primarily  an  important  list  of  artists  who  may  be  shown.  You  have  to 
do  that.   You  can't  go  out  and  just  ask  "Joe"  to  show,  and  just 
extoll  "Joe  the  photographer." 


Adams:    New  galleries  are  starting.   Some  of  them  are  very  well  funded,  with 
a  tremendous  amount  of  money.   The  Light  Gallery  in  New  York  is 
typical.   What  I  saw  there  was  certainly  of  no  consequence  whatso 
ever.   The  Witkin  Gallery  is  I  think  the  best  in  the  country, 
because  Lee  Witkin  combines  the  books,  the  old  stuff,  the  new 
stuff.   It's  a  nonpretentious  place.   It's  just  a  mixed  up, 
beautiful,  simple  setup,  with  no  obvious  money  involvement  that  you 
see.   I  know  the  rent  costs  him  something  and  he  has  a  nice  deck 
for  entertaining.   The  gallery  itself  is  small,  but  he  has  a 
priceless  treasure  of  photographs.   He  knows  photography,  knows  how 
to  get  it,  and  puts  on  these  exhibits  without  pretension.   And  he's 
doing  very  well. 

But  there  was  a  gallery  started  in  Chicago,  called  Limited 
Image  Gallery,  that  started  out  with  a  big  fanfare  and  had  a  big 
show  of  mine  and  others.  And  all  the  money  they  took  in  selling 
prints,  which  were  not  prints  from  the  wall,  but  prints  on  order, 
they  spent  for  the  rent,  the  lights,  and  so  forth,  so  they  went 
bust.   And  I'm  in  the  hole  for  three  thousand  dollars,  and  several 
other  people  I  know  are  out.   I'm  the  prime  loser  in  the  case 
because  I  had  more  prints.   But  they  had  absolutely  no  sense.   They 
stuck  labels  to  the  back  of  the  prints,  which  contracts  the  prints 
and  shows  on  the  surface.   Well,  they  might  be  used  for  other 
exhibits,  but  you  can't  sell  them.   When  you  look  at  them  in  the 
light,  you  see  the  defect. 

Liliane  De  Cock  had  mounted  her  color  pictures  on  beautiful 
mats,  and  then  they  stuck  overmats  on  them,  and  a  label  on  the  back 
in  addition.   And  then  one  print  was  just  scratched  right  across — 
the  only  one  of  its  kind.   She  couldn't  possibly  make  another  one 
like  it. 

So  here's  a  gallery  that  started  up  and  they  didn't  even  know 
the  fundamentals  of  care  of  photographs ,  let  alone  operation  of  the 
gallery.   And  we  have  that  now,  all  over  the  country — new  galleries, 
new  failures. 

And  quite  a  number  of  publications,  which  are  not — well, 
Aperture  is  about  the  only  one  that  survived.   Friends  of  Photography, 
they're  starting  a  quarterly.*  I  think  that  will  be  pretty  good, 
because  we  have  a  good  background.   We  don't  have  any  money,  but 
we're  out  on  a  big  fund  campaign  now.  We're  a  non-profit  educational 
organization.   We  have  the  Ferguson  Fund  of  twenty  thousand  dollars, 
which  gives  about  fifteen  hundred  dollars  a  year  to  a  creative 
photographer.   It's  been  run  not  as  a  fly-by-night  thing,  but  pretty 
solid,  well  planned. 

*The  initial  issue  of  the  quarterly,  Untitled  //I,  was  published  in 
the  autumn  of  1972. 


Adams : 

Teiser ; 

Adams : 

Adams : 


But  here's  photography,  in  which  there's  more  millions  expended  per 
week  than  all  of  the  old  masters  in  the  whole  time  of  the 
Renaissance  spent  on  canvas  and  paint — or  frescoes.   You  know,  it's 
just  fantastic.   But  most  of  it  is  a  diary.   The  Polaroid  process 
is  in  one  sense  directed  to  the  diarist.   Instead  of  saying,  "We 
went  to  Grandma's  for  Thanksgiving  turkey,"  by  gosh  there  are 
pictures  and  pictures  and  pictures  of  Grandma  and  the  Thanksgiving 
turkey!   This  is  very  important.   But  they've  also  gone  into  the 
potential  art  field  with  their  four  by  five,  and  very  much  into  the 
"concerned  photographer"  field  with  the  pictures  that  are  made  by 
photographers  who  want  to  record  the  scene. 

Well,  I'm  sort  of  getting  ahead  of  myself. 
Coming  up  to  the  present  and  going  back  to  the  past — that's  fine. 

I  guess  you've  said  what  in  general  the  over-all  effect  of  the 
f/64  group  was. 

My  only  regret  was  that  we  didn't  do  one  publication — one  portfolio 
or  one  publication,  because  I  think  that  might  have  had  historic 
value,  but  on  the  other  hand,  it  might  have  rigidized  it  a  bit,  too, 
you  see. 

Rollins  had  also  an  exhibit  of  Moholy-Nagy. 
Did  that  have  any  effect? 

Do  you  remember  that? 

That  was  the  first  of  them.  Yes,  but  not  as  photography  because 
most  of  his  photographs  were  photograms.  I  think  I've  described 
what  the  photogram  was. 

No  one  picked  up  any  of  that  here? 

Well,  I  won't  say  that.   I  think  it's  quite  an  illuminating  thing. 
His  photographs  as  prints  were  simply  terrible.  They  were  spotted, 
they  were  ugly,  they  were  bad  tones.   But  his  concepts  were  very 
important.  Moholy-Nagy  was  entirely  interested  in  design  and  not 
substance — not  the  subject  itself.   So  I  think  he  did  have  a 
definite  effect  on  this  approach,  and  I  think  that  people  didn't 
forget  it. 

The  Golden  Gate  International  Exposition  Exhibit 

Adams:    Of  course,  you  have  to  say  that  the  biggest  photographic  show  was  at 
the  1940  Fair  [the  Golden  Gate  International  Exposition].   I  think 
I  told  you  about  that. 


Teiser:   You  haven't.   We  have  the  catalogue,  A  Pageant  of  Photography,  and 
were  going  to  ask  you  about  it. 

Adams:    Yes,  because  that  was  very  important  in  the  sense  that  it  was  just 

big,  and  I  griped  and  I  griped  and  I  griped  because  at  the  1939  Fair 
there  was  no  photography,  and  Tim  [Timothy]  Pfleuger — he  was  a  great, 
really  great  man,  a  wonderful  person — he  called  me  up  one  day  and  he 
said,  "Adams,  we've  got  a  little  money.  Would  you  like  to  run  the 
photography  department?"  Well,  I  didn't  have  any  money,  but  I  said, 
"God,  yes.   Tell  me  about  it."  He  said,  "Well,  in  the  Fine  Arts 
building,  we'll  give  you  some  galleries  and  we'll  give  you  a 
secretary — she's  a  very  attractive  Italian  girl  who  spells  **f  with 
a  'ph'."  [Laughter]   And  he  said,  "We've  got  sixteen  hundred  dollars 
in  addition  to  the  secretary.   It's  all  yours." 

And  I  went  over  there,  and  there  were  these  big  rooms,  and  we 
painted  them,  and  my  God,  they  looked  beautiful.   The  lighting  was 
only  fair,  but  I  didn't  worry  about  that.   And  I  had  the  equivalent 
of  thirty-seven  large  galleries  of  photographs.   And  I'm  not  a 
museum  man  at  all.   I  had  Weston,  both  Westons,  and  Moholy-Nagy,  and 
Arnold  Gen the,  a  big  show  of  contemporary  color  photography,  and  the 
Photo  League.   And  early  western  photography  which,  if  you  look  back 
at,  there's  some  extraordinary  things  in  it.   But  it's  gone  now;  you 
can't  find  them.   They  printed  on  leather — 1868,  something  like  that.* 
And  I  had  the  equivalent  of  the  f/64,  a  group  show. 

Boy,  that  was  an  awful  hard  job,  but  it  was  a  contribution,  and 
that's  what  brought,  for  the  first  time,  photography  in  many  of  its 
approaches,  to  the  attention  of  the  people  in  the  West.   Before  that, 
nobody 'd  ever  seen  anything.   I  tried  to  get  a  show  from  Stieglitz 
and,  you  know,  the  old  boy  nearly  did  it.  He  said,  "I'm  sorely 
tempted,"  and  I  said,  "God,  Stieglitz,  this  is  the  chance  to  do 
something.   I'll  paint  the  gallery  any  way  you  say.   We  have  guards; 
it'll  be  perfectly  safe.   And  if  you'd  only — "  Well,  then  he 
finally  decided  that  he  couldn't  do  it.   If  he  did  it,  he'd  have  to 
send  to  other  museums.   He  trusted  me  to  take  care  of  them,  but  he 
couldn't  trust  any  of  the  museums  to  do  it!   He  gave  me  all  this 
fantastic  negative  monkey  business,  but  still  I  was  sorry  I  lost 
that.   But  I  did  have  "The  Steerage,"  a  reproduction  from  Camera 

It  was  a  very  good  show.   It  did  bring  to  San  Francisco,  at 
least,  an  awareness  of  photography  it  had  never  had  before. 

*The  exhibit  included  an  1861  photograph  on  leather  of  Brewer  Camp 
near  Monterey,  photographer  unknown. 


Timing  in  Photography 

Teiser:   Who  was  it,  incidentally,  who  did  the  ten  billion  studies  of  a  cup 
and  saucer?  Edward  Steichen? 

Adams:    That  is  apocryphal.  [Laughter] 

Teiser:   I  was  thinking  of  that  when  you  were  talking  about  Weston  taking  the 
MJB  photographs. 

Adams:    Any  photo-scientist,  technologist,  even  at  that  time,  would  have  been 
able  to  figure  out  the  reciprocity  factor  and  would  not  have  needed 
to  make  ten  billion  pictures  of  the  cup  and  saucer.   These  stories, 
you  know — like  the  one  that  I  waited  for  three  days  to  get  this 
picture  or  that — I  never  waitedl   The  only  time  I  waited  for  anything 
in  my  life  was  on  top  of  Kearsarge  Pass,  waiting  for  some  clouds  to 
go  away  from  the  Kearsarge  Pinnacles,  and  they  didn't.   I  waited  all 
afternoon,  and  all  the  clouds  kept  moving  right  along  the  line.   But 
we  have  to  be  very  fair  about  that,  because  when  we  know  what  we're 
going  to  do,  especially  when  we  have  assignments,  then  we  have  to 
wait.   But  my  "Moonrise,  Hernandez,  New  Mexico"  picture  was  taken 
with  the  differential  of  only  fifteen  seconds.   The  Lone  Pine 
sunrise  ["Winter  Sunrise,  Sierra  Nevada,  from  Lone  Pine"] — I  just 
was  there  at  the  right  time.   The  "Grand  Tetons  and  Snake  River"  was 
all  within  ten  minutes. 

Weston  used  to  say,  "If  you  wait  here  trying  to  see  if 
something's  going  to  happen,  you're  probably  losing  something 
wonderful  over  there."  So  he  never  waited.   And  I  wouldn't  unless 
I  really  knew  something  was  to  "happen." 

I  mean  like  one  night  we  had  a  green  flash  coming  up — the  sun 
goes  down  against  a  sharp  horizon,  and  there's  a  green-emerald 
momentary  flash.   And  there  was  a  ship  coming,  and  I  thought,  "This 
could  be  one  of  the  craziest  things."  And  I  got  out  the  big  camera 
with  the  very  long  lens,  you  see.   The  idea  was  that  it  would  be 
perfectly  marvelous  if  we  could  photograph  the  ship  in  front  of  the 
setting  sun  with  the  green  flash.  Well,  it  almost  made  it.   If  I'd 
been  living  a  quarter  of  a  mile  down  the  coast,  I  would  have  gotten 
it.   Then  I  figured  out,  well,  so  what?  [Laughter]   My  lens  wasn't 
really  big  enough — you  have  to  have  one  of  those  huge  mirror  lenses. 
But,  it  was  a  pretty  good  green  flash.   Might  even  be  one  tonight. 
Ever  seen  a  green  flash? 

Teiser:   No.   Mr.  Spencer  said  you  had  a  great  interest  in  the  green  flash. 

Adams:    Well,  the  green  flash  is  a  very  interesting  phenomenon.   It  takes  a 
knife-edge  ocean  line  (there  can't  be  any  clouds)  and  as  the  sun 
descends,  I  guess  you  would  say,  the  spectrum  is  sectored.   The  blue 


Adams:    light  is  completely  scattered,  the  red  rays  are  refracted,  and 

there's  a  beautiful  emerald  flash  for  about  a  tenth  of  a  second — 
it's  very  short — just  pht!   Like  that.   And  it's  a  beautiful 
emerald.   We've  seen  it  here  quite  often.   It  has  to  be,  as  I  say, 
a  knife-edge  sky,  because  if  there's  any  diffusion  or  clouds  you 
don't  get  it.   We  might  get  it  tonight,  but  I  don't  know. 

Teiser:   I  have  another  story  that's  probably  apocryphal,  but  I'll  ask  you 
about  it.   This  is  about  you,  and  someone  told  me  tha£  you  were  in 
the  mountains  in  the  summer,  and  you  saw  something  that  you  thought 
you'd  like  to  photograph  in  the  snow.   So  the  next  winter  you  packed 
up  all  your  equipment  on  an  animal,  and  one  glass  plate,  and  went 
up  into  the  mountains,  took  the  picture,  and  came  back.  [Laughter] 

Adams:    I  never  did  such  a  damned  thing  in  my  life  I   You  can  discount  that 
one.  [Laughter] 

There  is  a  story,  however,  about  the  Santa  Fe  Railroad.   They 
had  a  terrible  wreck  at  Durango  in  New  Mexico,  and  they  sent  out 
their  photographer  from  Chicago,  who  was  just,  you  know,  the 
railroad  photographer.   And  he  arrived  on  the  train  the  next  day, 
and  he  got  out  and  walked  up  the  hill  and  studied  very  carefully, 
and  he  took  one  picture  and  went  back  to  Chicago.  [Laughter]   He 
said,  "They  told  me  to  go  out  and  get  a  picture,  which  I  did." 

No,  these  stories  are  really  remarkable.   They  probably  stem 
from  the  fact  that  the  picture  of  Half  Dome  ["Monolith,  the  Face  of 
Half  Dome"]  was  taken  when  I  only  had  two  plates  left;  I  had  taken 
many  plates  that  day,  but  I  only  had  two  plates  left,  and  I  did  one 
exposure  of  Half  Dome  with  an  ordinary  K-2  filter.   And  that  was  my 
first  insight  into  visualization,  because  I  suddenly  realized  what 
the  image  was  going  to  be — the  shadow  of  the  cliff  and  the  sky 
would  be  about  the  same  in  value;  it  would  be  dull,  and  it  would  not 
have  anything  at  all  of  the  romantic,  really  super-dramatic  impact. 
And  I  had  one  more  glass  plate,  and  a  very  strong  F  filter, 
Wrattan  F,  and  I  put  that  on,  and  I  made  this  picture — this  big  one — 
it's  around  the  corner  [on  the  studio  wall].   I  knew  what  was  going 
to  happen,  and  that's  probably  my  first  conscious  visualization. 
But  that  was  just  because  I'd  packed  this  camera  up  through  this 
God-awful  snow;  it  was  really  very  difficult  getting  there.   I'd 
taken  quite  a  few  pictures,  and  how  easy  it  would  have  been  to  have 
taken  all  the  pictures  before  I  got  there,  or  made  a  few  mistakes. 
See  how  chancey  all  this  is. 

I  sat  down  on  one  of  the  best  plates  I  ever  made,  in  Yosemite. 
It  was  of  Tenaya  Canyon  from  above.   I  leaned  these  plates  against 
a  chair,  you  see,  and  then  I  moved  over  to  fix  something  else,  and 
then  I  sat  down,  and  one  of  these  plates  had  fallen  down.   Cra-aa-ck, 


Adams:    crunch.   And  here  was  this  picture  that  I'd  spent  three  hours 

climbing  down  a  canyon — I  took  three  pictures,  two  of  them  weren't 
any  good,  something  happened.   This  one  was  a  beautiful  negative. 
I  just  ruined  it,  you  know.  [Laughter]   So,  I  mean,  it's  not  always 
apocryphal.   Happens  all  the  time. 

Teiser:   You  know  what  you  want,  but  you  do  take  a  number  of  exposures  still, 
do  you? 

Adams:    What  I  do:   if  I  come  across  a  very  exciting  thing  which  I  know  is 
a  picture,  especially  if  I'm  taking  film  pack,  I'll  take  at  least 
two,  three,  or  four.   But  they're  all  the  same.   I  don't  "bracket" 
my  exposures.   What's  called  "bracketing"  is  nothing  but  indecision. 
[Laughter]  When  I  read  my  values,  I  like  to  know  what  my  exposure 
is.   Once  in  a  while,  you'll  think  of  another  interpretation  and  do 
it  a  different  way,  and  give  a  different  development  on  it.   But  the 
idea  like  Margaret  Bourke-White  had,  of  just  setting  up  and  going 
from  f/45  to  f/3.2,  up  and  down  the  line,  knowing  that  one  would  be 
a  better  exposure  than  the  others.... 

Teiser:    I  have  my  usual  list  of  many  questions  here,  but  would  you  like  to 
stop  for  today? 

Adams:    I  can  go  on  some  more.   Let's  finish  the  tape. 
Teiser:   All  right. 

Edwin  Land  and  the  Polaroid  Camera  System 

Teiser:   Perhaps  you  have  something  in  mind  that  continues  what  we  were 

talking  about  now.   For  instance,  what  about  the  Land  camera  and 

Adams:    This  is  a  very  important  thing.   I've  always  been  interested  in 

anything  new  in  the  mechanical  aspect  of  things,  and  before  1950 — 
'47  or  '48 — I  met  Edwin  Land. 

Teiser:   How  did  you  meet  him? 

Adams:    I  heard  him  at  an  Optical  Society  lecture  when  he  presented  the 

Polaroid  camera  process,  which  was  an  historic  event,  and  then  we 
went  to  Cambridge  [Massachusetts]  and  came  over  to  this  little 
laboratory,  and  he  took  my  picture  with  a  great  big  eight  by  ten 
camera.   The  process  was  in  eight  by  ten  format  in  the  laboratories, 
He  sat  me  down  under  lights  and  things,  and  exposed  the  picture, 
processed  it;  there  it  was,  brown  and  of  rather  awful  quality.   It 


Adams:    was  his  very  first  experimental  work.   But  by  gosh,  it  was  a  one- 
minute  picture!   And  that  excited  me  no  end;  I  mean  the  thought 
that  you  could  really  do  that. 

So  I  told  him  that  I  was  interested,  that  I  felt  that  he  had 
something  absolutely  unique — an  historic  step.   So  he  said,  "Well, 
I'd  like  you  to  be  a  consultant  for  the  company  (at  one  hundred 
dollars  a  month)  and  just  send  in  your  ideas."  *And  so  that's  where 
it  all  started.   I'm  now  up  to  memo  2078.   It's  considerably  more 
than  one  hundred  dollars  a  month,  thank  God.   But  out  of  all  this 
came  the  idea.   They  progressed  from  the  brown  tone  to  a  clean 
black  and  white  image.   That  seemed  necessary;  it  was  a  first  step. 
Of  course,  by  1950,  1952,  he  had  the  whole  future  planned  right  up 
to  now  and  beyond.   The  development  of  color,  the  new  cameras;  it 
was  all  written  out,  and  many  groups  in  laboratories  were  given 
assignments  to  develop.  And  nothing  like  this  has  been  known  before. 
It's  fantastic. 

At  first  I  claimed  that  the  thing  against  the  print  was  the 
color,  and  that  it  should  be  black  and  white.   I'm  no  real  tech 
nician,  but  they  would  send  out  films,  and  I  would  take  the  camera 
out  and  try  all  kinds  of  experiments  and  then  I'd  send  in  my 
comments,  and  in  good  time  came  the  black-and-white  image. 

And  then  I  urged  we  should  have  something  for  the  professional, 
meaning  something  he  could  use  in  the  conventional  view  camera.   If 
Polaroid  was  not  going  to  make  a  view  camera,  they  have  to  use  what 
we've  got.   So  we  must  have  an  individual  "pack."  Well,  in  Palo 
Alto  [where  Edwin  Land  spent  some  time],  we  used  to  walk  up  and 
down  the  street  in  the  evenings.   Land  said,  "Well,  how  many  people 
would  use  it?"  I  said,  "Oh,  gosh,  I  can  think  of  fifty  right  now." 
Slight  exaggeration,  but  I  believed  it.  [Laughs]   I  said,  "I'm  a 
professional  and  I  can  think  of  nothing  more  wonderful  than  getting 
a  Polaroid  print  out  of  a  view  camera  in  the  four  by  five  category." 

Well,  today  we  have  it,  and  you  can  see  it  on  the  wall  [of  the 
studio  area,  where  prints  are  hung].   Some  of  those  prints,  a  couple 
of  them,  at  least,  are  very  early  ones,  and  the  whole  technique  and 
the  whole  idea  of  the  adapter  and  how  it  would  work — the  technique 
is  all  theirs,  but  I  was  just  promoting  the  image  quality.   It's  a 
very  interesting  thing:   a  person  employed  by  Polaroid  who  works 
along  all  the  time  (this  would  apply  to  any  company) — he's  working 
with  a  film,  say  Type  52,  and  he  knows  what  the  film  can  do.   Then 
he  begins  to  look  around  for  subjects  that  fit  Type  52.  Well,  the 
whole  thing  becomes  static,  and  a  lot  of  beautiful  pictures  come 
in  because  there's  nothing  better  for  Type  52  than  a  foggy  day  in 
Point  Lobos.   But  my  job  was,  as  a  professional,  to  take  it  on 
certain  assignments,  real  or  contrived,  and  see  where  the  film 
failed.   That  was  the  important  thing. 


Adams:    Here's  the  thing  that  I,  Ansel  Adams,  was  requested  to  do  by  their 
advertising  agency,  and  I  do  it,  and  the  scale  of  the  film  isn't 
adequate.   So  in  a  sense  I  was  responsible  for  the  present  four  by 
five,  by  pleading  and  begging  and  support.  And  now  it's  approaching 
a  twenty-million-dollar-a-year  sale,  just  alone  on  the  four  by  five. 
But  the  multi-million  dollar  thing  is  in  the  camera  which  is  for  the 
public,  and  all  the  four  by  five,  black  and  white,  color,  and  the 
experimental  material — all  this  stuff  couldn't  exist  without  vast 
public  sale  of  the  popular  products. 

Teiser:   What  are  the  implications  of  the  four  by  five?   That  you  have  a 
permanent  negative? 

Adams:    You  have  several  varieties.  You  have  Type  1,  which  is  a  very  high- 
contrast  print  which  is  used  in  the  graphic  arts,  and  is  really 
quite  remarkable  because  you  can  make  screened  images  of  it.  You 
put  an  engraving  screen  in  front  of  the  negative  and  paste  the 
resulting  pictures  right  on  a  sheet  with  type,  and  re-photograph  it 
for  "offset"  purposes.   You  can  also  do  all  kinds  of  fancy,  really 
very  interesting  aesthetic  experiments,  because  this  has  only  a  one 
to  two-and-a-half  step  range.  You  can  exaggerate  textures.   (You 
can  do  a  texture  image  of  that  drab  cloth,  greatly  exceeding  its 
original  contrast.)   Type  52  is  the  standard  high-speed  film,  500  at 
least;  they  say  400,  but  my  exposure  trials  usually  give  500-plus. 
It  has  a  limited  exposure  scale  as  does  color,  but  it  gives  a 
beautiful  print. 

Then  there's  Type  57,  which  they  call  their  3000  film,  which  is 
for  me  4000  ASA  daylight,  the  fastest  film  that  was  ever  made.   It's 
extraordinary.   Sitting  in  here,  at  dusk,  the  light  would  be  almost 
too  bright  for  it.   But  you  can  work  at  night  with  available  light 
and  get  the  feeling  of  environmental  lighting.   I've  used  some  film 
up  to  20,000  ASA,  experimental  film — fantastic  stuff. 

Then  there's  the  Type  55  PN,  which  gives  you  both  the  negative 
print  and  the  negative.   It's  quite  remarkable;  not  fast.   It's 
quite  slow — about  50-64  ASA.   Then  there's  the  Type  58,  which  is 
Polacolor,  four  by  five,  and  the  pack  film,  Type  108.   Then  there's 
a  new  camera,  the  Aladdin  (which  is  a  temporary  name — I  guess  they'll 
use  it),  which  is  totally  different  and  absolutely  remarkable. 

Then  they  have  a  very  high-speed  film  that  they  use  for 
oscilloscope  photography — around  10,000  ASA.   And  they  have  also  a 
marvelous  material,  which  people  don't  take  advantage  of  as  they 
should,  called  Type  47,  which  is  one  of  the  sharpest  transparencies 
for  slides.   And  you  have  ways  of  controlling  contrast  with  this 

Teiser:   It's  used  in  laboratories  and  industry. 


Adams:    I  have  a  whole  collection  of  slides  in  which  photographs  are 

projected  on  a  screen  with  the  standard  lantern-style  projector. 
It  is  remarkable.   They  tried  it  one  time  with  a  2  1/4  by  2  1/4 
projector,  but  it  didn't  get  over,  and  it  was  too  bad  because  the 
images  were  so  sharp  and  so  beautiful — such  a  great  range  to  them. 

Then  they  also  have  another  material  known  as  PolaLine  146-L 
which  gives  a  very  high  contrast  transparency.   If  you  want  to  do  a 
graph  or  a  page  of  type,  it  would  be  perfect.   Because  of  the 
particular  chemistry  and  the  physical  system  involved,  this  is  the 
sharpest  image  available  to  date.   The  diffusion  is  within  a  very, 
very  short  angle. 

I've  always  considered  the  Polaroid  process  as  an  intensely 
creative  one,  not  only  because  of  the  inherent  beauty  of  the 
material,  which  has,  if  you  want  to  speak  photo-scientif ically,  a 
linear  scale  and  cannot  be  duplicated  by  any  ordinary  print.   But  it 
also  has  the  element  of  immediacy.   You  see  exactly  what  you're 
getting.   When  you're  making  a  picture  under  static  conditions,  you 
can  make  an  immediate  correction.   Or  if  you're  working  in  fast 
situations,  once  you  have  one  picture  you  know  what  the  others  are 
going  to  be. 

There  is  a  new  aesthetics  involved  in  this  immediacy,  and 
that's  what  I  think  is  so  important. 

I'm  talked  out! 

Harroun:   Your  photographs  on  the  backs  of  Aperture — those  are  marvelous. 
They  must  have  had — 

Adams:    Well,  I'm  responsible  for  a  lot  of  those.   Not  my  own,  but  other 
people  trying  to  get  good  images  with  the  process. 

Teiser:   Yours  must  have  had  a  tremendous  impact. 

Adams:    I  was  one  of  the  first  ones  that  used  it.   Yes,  I  guess  I  was  the 
almost  first  one  outside  the  company.   Paul  Caponigro  and  a  few 
others  used  it,  but  I'm  the  one  that  totally  believed  in  it. 

And  a  typical  instance — in  a  day  or  so  I'm  getting  a  new  pack 
of  film,  something  experimental — the  Type  55,  in  which  we  think 
we've  made  a  breakthrough.   Well,  it's  so  complex  technically  I 
couldn't  begin  to  understand  it,  but  I  go  out  and  make  some  pictures, 
and  the  breakthrough  is  valid  if  I  get  a  good  picture  and  a  good 
negative.  And  does  it  have  the  scale,  etc.,  required? 

Teiser:    It  will  have  a  negative? 


Adams:    This  is  the  55.   It  has  the  negative.* 
[End  Tape  5,  Side  2] 

[Interview  V  —  20  May  1972] 
[Begin  Tape  6,  Side  1] 

Mortens en 

Teiser:   Let  me  ask  you  one  more  question  that  has  to  do,  indirectly,  with 
Group  f/64.   Why  was  William  Mortensen  considered  so  dreadful  by 
you  and  the  others? 

Adams:    Mortensen  represented  about  the  lowest  ebb  of  pictorialism,  a  very 

literary  approach  through  his  titles,  his  mannerisms  and  techniques — 
"abrasion  tones"  and  matrix  masks — oh,  I  can't  think  of  the  word — 
it's  things  you  print  through  that  give  the  appearance  of  canvas — 
it's  texture  screens!   He  was  imitating  some  of  the  worst  of  the 
Romantic  painting,  and  using  Roman  letters  for  inscriptions,  and  all 
kinds  of  manipulation.   It  just  seemed  to  be  as  far  from  photography 
as  possible.   He  still  is  very  popular  in  some  circles,  but  for  us 
he  was  the  anti-Christ.   We  stood  for  exactly  the  opposite  of 
everything  he  represented. 

The  interesting  thing  is  that  he  had  a  man  named  Paul — I  don't 
know  whether  that's  the  first  name  or  the  last  name — who  helped  him 
write  or  actually  wrote  the  book  Mortensen  on  the  Negative,  which 
has  many  very  fine  ideas  in  it.   I  was  quite  embarrassed  later  to 
find  that  he  had  anticipated  some  of  my  pet  ideas  of  technique; 
controlled  exposure  and  development  of  the  negative,  etc.   (But  not 
the  Zone  System  developed  around  1940.)   The  book  is  very  good;  it's 
just  that  the  illustrations  are  such  rather  sad  examples.   A  very 
interesting  thing  is  that  in  all  of  the  history  of  flagrant 
pictorialism,  you  don't  find  it  has  important  museum  recognition. 
The  pictorialists  call  their  exhibitions  "salons."  When  I  went  to 
St.  Louis  about  1938,  some  of  the  museums  might  have  such  shows,  but 
now  I  don't  think  they  elect  to  touch  it  because  the  motive  is 
"hobbyist."  It's  awfully  hard  to  put  your  finger  on  it.  You  say 
it's  bad  taste  and  the  answer  is,  "Who  are  you  to  say  it's  bad 
taste?"  What  is  taste?  What's  good  taste? 

*Did  not  work  out!  [A. A.] 


Adams:    I  don't  have  Mortensen's  book  here.   I  had  it  once;  somebody  stole 

it.   But  the  illustrations  were  just  over-retouched,  over-modulated. 
He'd  take  these  young  nude  models  and  grease  them  so  they'd  shine, 
you  know.  [Laughter]   And  they'd  be  in  poses — 

Teiser:   Didn't  he  write  a  book  on  the  print,  too? 

Adams:    Yes.   And  Monsters  and  Madonnas  was  one  book  he  wrote.  [Laughter] 
Well,  they  were  like  a  bad  dream.   They're  still  publishing 
portfolios  of  Mortensen's,  printing  from  his  negatives.   I  guess 
the  P.S.A.  Journal  has  been  advertising  them.   I  remember  writing 
a  letter  in  which  I  suggested  he  negotiate  oblivion.   My  father 
persuaded  me  it  wouldn't  have  the  desired  effect.   The  controversy 
was  kind  of  silly. 

But  anyway,  his  work  was  the  exact  opposite  of  what  f/64 
stood  for.   He  would  have  classes  down  at  Laguna  Beach,  and  wealthy 
capitalists  from  the  East  would  come  out  and  spend  a  thousand 
dollars,  I  was  told,  for  a  weekend.   And  after  they'd  returned  home, 
all  their  work  would  look  like  his.   I  remember  how  these  men  would 
get  together,  say  in  Chicago,  and  they'd  hire  a  model  for  the 
weekend.   The  model  would  be  a  platinum  blond,  usually  wearing 
nothing  but  high-heeled  shoes.   You  know,  that  kind  of  thing! 
[Laughter]   All  very  decent,  but  all  done  with  such  conventional 
poses  of  holding  a  jar  on  their  shoulder,  etc.,  and  they'd  have 
names  like  "Dessa"  or  "The  Girl  with  the  Flaxen  Hair."  It  was  so 
obviously  phony!   All  made-up  and  greased  up.   It  was  a  way  of 
getting  highlights  on  nudes.   In  fact,  some  of  the  early  photograph 
ers  did  this  sometimes  in  portraits  to  accentuate  the  highlights  on 
the  face.   And  in  the  early  days,  they  had  to  chalk  the  face, 
because  the  film  wasn't  sensitive  to  anything  but  blue  light,  so 
the  face  would  come  out  over-dark.   Anybody  with  a  dark  complexion 
or  with  freckles  usually  had  to  be  well  powdered.   Any  hand  would 
show  all  kinds  of  spots.   Anything  that  went  to  the  pink,  yellow  or 
red  and  would  go  down  in  value.   So  a  lot  of  the  daguerrotypes  were 
taken  in  rather  strong,  soft  daylight,  and  probably  powdered  up  a 
bit — like  in  television  now.   On  television  they  have  to  powder  my 
head  so  it  won't  shine  and  blow  the  tube.   (That's  what  happened  on 
the  moon.) 

Vision  and  Photography 

Teiser:   To  take  you  back  still  further  into  the  past,  let  me  ask  you  if 

your  motives,  for  your  earliest  photographs,  were  in  effect  the  same 
as  your  motives  for  taking  photographs  now? 


Adams:   A  motive  is  a  subconscious  thing;  I  wouldn't  know  how  to  answer  that 
question.  I  think  that  in  the  earlier  days,  I  was  technically  and 
aesthetically  naive,  so  many  of  my  early  photographs  have  a  much 
simpler  and  more  direct  statement,  and  all  the  ones  that  are  the  best 
are  the  ones  that  are  motivated  by  "instant  recognition."  and  then 
just  doing  them  and  having  the  technique  to  back  it  up.  Which  I 
didn't  have  in  the  earlier  days,  so  I'd  have  many  an  exciting  vision 
but  zero  results  because  I  wouldn't  know  what  to  do.   Now  we  know 
much  more,  but  at  the  cost  of  a  certain  spontaneity,  if  that's  the 
term  you  want  to  use.   It's  very  hard  to  say  this,  but  as  you  get 
experienced  and  you  see  a  lot  of  work,  in  any  art  form,  you  can't 
help  being  influenced,  and  you  automatically  judge  and  check  your 
reactions  to  your  experience. 

Today  I  went  out  trying  to  get  this  picture  of  this  very 
marvelous  old  dead  tree.   It's  looked  the  same  for  ten  years,  as  if 
it's  going  to  blow  over.   But  the  sky  is  usually  blah — it's  just 
nothing.   Today  there  were  some  rather  interesting  clouds.   I  was 
setting  up  the  camera  (and  there  are  only  a  few  places  you  can  do  it 
for  this  subject)  and  I  had  to  wait  until  those  clouds  behaved.   See 
now,  in  the  past  I  would  have  just  seen  a  cloud  and  thought,  "There's 
a  cloud  or  a  tree'"  I  wouldn't  have  seen  the  cloud-tree  relationship 
so  precisely.   And  when  I  met  Strand,  I  found  that  was  one  of  his 
basic  themes — the  marvelous,  precise  relationship  of  "this  to  that." 
Trying  to  get  a  moment  when  all  the  branches  in  this  tree  were  in  the 
cloud.   If  they  were  against  blue  sky  they  might  be  "lost."  And  you 
wait  until  things  would  be  right.   And  a  couple  of  times  it  was  right. 

In  the  1920s  I  wouldn't  have  been  in  the  least  bit  aware  of  such 
relationships.   I  can  look  back  and  see  many  photographic  situations 
when  I  really  missed  the  moment.   The  idea  was  there,  but  I  didn't 
visualize  that  perfection  of  arrangement.   Some  photographers  never 
have  that  facility;  others  have  it  to  an  extreme  degree. 

There's  one  wonderful  photograph  by  Stieglitz  at  Lake  George, 
the  porch  where  the  white  turned  post  is  seen  adjacent  to  the  window 
and  window  edge.   There's  a  thirty-second  of  an  inch  hairline 
separating  them.   And  it's  this  hairline  that  really  suggests  space 
and  organization.   You  see,  the  spectator  is  convinced,  or  feels,  or 
is  aware  of  the  fact  that  the  photographer  was  aware  of  the  relation 
ship.   And  I  have  one,  that  I  show  in  my  slides,  of  a  picture  that 
was  done  with  a  Polaroid  at  the  Rochester  Institute  of  Technology  of 
a  building  of  the  "Greek  revival"  period.  Here  these  marvelous 
columns  are  seen  in  the  near/far  mode  in  exaggerated  scale.   In  the 
first  one  I  did,  the  curve  of  the  near  column  broke  into  the 
rectangular  pedestal  of  the  column  in  the  back,  and  I  realized  when 
I  saw  this  in  the  Polaroid-Land  print;  I'd  missed  it  in  the  ground 
glass.   All  I  had  to  do  was  to  move  the  lens  a  little  bit  to  the 
right  (two  inches),  which  allowed  it  to  see  around  the  column.   It 


Adams:   created  a  little  "hairline"  of  separation  which  succeeded  in 

maintaining  the  integrity  of  the  curved  shape.   The  foreground 
pillar  wasn't  lost  in  juxtaposition  with  the  back  shape;  a  "merger" 
was  avoided. 

Those  things  are  hard  to  describe  verbally.   And  of  course  when 
you  do  overlook  one,  then  you  try  to  justify  it.   You  put  a  lot  of 
what  they  call  "phrases"  into  the  equation <o  make  it  come  out  to 
zero.  [Laughter]   Then  in  about  a  year  you  may  look  at  it,  and  you 
wonder,  "Well  how  in  the  world  did  I  ever  get  by  with  that?" 

I'll  see  somebody's  work  for  the  first  time,  and  that's  the  first 
thing  you  see — the  disturbing  mergers  and  distractions.   You  look  at 
a  print,  and  then  you  find  your  eyes  going  around  to  the  spots  and 
bad  edges  and  all  the  funny  things  a  photograph  can  contain.  You  can 
put  your  finger  over  one  of  them  and  say,  "Well  that's  an  interruption." 
They  see  the  problem  for  the  first  time.   I  can  go  back  and  get  some 
of  my  early  work  and  do  exactly  the  same  thing — because  I  didn't  see 
the  defects  to  begin  with. 

More  and  more  as  you  work,  you  try  to  visualize  the  image  ahead 
of  exposure.   It's  more  difficult  with  the  little  cameras,  but  of 
course  the  "saving  instrument"  is  the  single-lens  reflex,  because 
there  you  really  see  the  image — just  what  the  lens  is  seeing. 

Teiser:   With  the  rangefinder  camera,  you  partly  guess  at  it? 

Adams:   The  rangefinder  or  the  viewfinder  is  not  on  lens  axis.  Now,  if  I'm 
a  long  ways  off,  the  parallax  effect  doesn't  make  any  difference. 
But  if  I'm  sitting  here  with  you  and  my  eye  is  the  lens,  your  hair 
line,  for  example,  is  just  touching  the  fossil.   If  this  "eye"  would 
be  the  finder — it's  usually  off  to  the  left — I'll  compose  you  as  the 
finder  sees  it.   But  my  lens  sees  you  cutting  in  one  inch  on  that 
fossil  behind  you.   So  that  the  composition  is  not  as  anticipated. 
The  old  Rolleiflex  has  this  kind  of  vertical  offset — you  have  to  raise 
the  camera  about  two  and  a  half  inches  to  be  sure  the  lens  sees  what 
the  finder  sees. 

Teiser:   Doesn't  the  Rolleiflex  have  a  compensating  mechanism? 

Adams:   Oh,  the  new  one — ^the  single-lens  one — but  not  the  double,  the  twin- 
lens  design.   What  the  twin-lens  does  is  to  tilt  the  viewer  mechanism 
so  that  the  plane  focused  on  comes  to  the  center  of  the  field.   But 
because  the  lens  is  taking  the  picture  at  a  lower  level,  it  can't 
take  care  of  the  parallax.   You're  only  tilting  the  viewing  lens.   The 
distance  of  the  lens  from  the  subject  determines  the  perspective.   So 
with  the  Hasselblad  single-lens  (Buperwide)  I  must  raise  the  tripod 
three  inches  to  get  just  what  I  see  in  the  finder.   I  compose  very 
accurately  with  the  finder  but  must  make  this  adjustment  when  working 
with  near/far  subjects.   After  composing,  I  just  crank  the  camera  up 


exactly  the  difference  in  distance  between  the  camera  lens  and  the 
finder  lens.   Then  the  camera  lens  is  seeing  what  the  finder  lens  was 
seeing.   I  can  show  you  a  picture  of  that  in  my  book,  Camera  and  Lens, 
where  there's  quite  a  profound  difference  evident. 

Flash  Mishaps 

Back  to  your  earliest  photographs,  you  were  speaking  the  other  day 
of  the  fact  that  you've  been  able  to  maintain  photography  as  a 
commercial  project  and  practice  it  as  an  art  at  the  same  time.   Do 
you  remember  the  first  photographs  for  which  you  were  paid? 

There's  one  very  funny  one  that  really  is  not  of  much  consequence. 
My  next-door  neighbor  taught  at  the  Chinese  school  in  Chinatown,  and 
wanted  a  picture  of  her  class.   So,  I  had  an  old  four  by  five  camera 
(my  first  one)  and  a  flash  gun.   You  used  to  use  flash  powder — 
magnesium — very  dangerous.   You'd  put  a  dynamite  cap  in  this  tray, 
and  you'd  pull  down  the  tension  cord,  and  you'd  jet  the  safety  catch. 
Many  people  have  been  blinded  with  this  stuff  firing  in  their  faces. 
I  figured  out  how  much  magnesium  was  needed  and  I  looked  at  the  table 
and  it  said,  use  four  number  three  capsules.   Well,  I  thought  number 
three  capsules  were  the  small  capsules.   They  happened  to  be  the  big 
capsules  (each  were  four  times  the  strength  of  the  small  ones).   So  I 
loaded  this  pan  up  with  magnesium  powder,  held  it  over  my  head,  pulled 
the  slide  from  the  camera,  and  checked  if  everything  was  ready  to  go. 
Then  you  open  the  shutter,  fire  the  flash,  then  close  the  shutter. 
There  wasn't  any  modern  synchronization.   So  here  were  all  these  kids, 
and  the  teacher  said,  "Now  look  right  at  Mr.  Adams  and  smile.  Now  I 
think  it's  all  right,  Mr.  Adams."  So  I  opened-bang-shut,  and  of  course 
there  was  a  large  explosion.   I  used  about  fifteen  times  the  amount  of 
flash  powder  needed.   Vast  clouds  of  smoke  rolled  through  the  room, 
and  the  kids  fell  under  their  desks.   We  opened  the  windows,  and  the 
smoke  poured  out,  and  somebody  put  in  a  fire  alarm.  [Laughter]  And 
of  course  it  blackened  the  wall  and  ceiling  where  I  was  standing,  and 
I  was  persona  non  grata.   But  it  was  understood,  and  forgiven  in  time. 

The  developed  negative  was  as  dense  as  a  stove  lid,  it  was  so 
damned  over-exposed;  about  fifteen,  sixteen  times,  I  guess.   But  I 
took  it  to  a  friend  who  reduced  it,  and  I  got  a  pretty  good  print  out 
of  it.   When  I  tried  to  take  another  picture  of  them,  they'd 
disappeared.  They  were  just  terrified! 

Then  I  did  a  wedding.   By  that  time  I'd  mastered  the  flash 
technique  pretty  well.   I  was  standing  in  a  house  with  a  nice  white 
colonial  room,  and  the  bride  and  groom  were  standing  by  the  fireplace. 
So  I  set  the  flash  off,  and  as  it  was  right  under  the  lintel,  it 
blistered  the  paint  for  about  four  feet!  [Laughter] 


Adams:   Those  were  the  first  two  things  I  was  paid  for,  and  they  were  both 
disasters.   The  clients  were  very  kind — I  offered  to  pay  for  the 
lintel,  but  they  said,  "Oh  no,  we  were  going  to  do  the  room  over 
anyway."  Which  was  a  lie — the  room  was  beautiful.   But  it  was  very 

And  then  another  one  later.   I  was  doing  the — I  think  it  was 
called  the  San  Francisco  "round  table" — a  gtoup  of  the  real  bosses 
of  San  Francisco,  big  lawyers  and  financiers.   They  would  meet  at  the 
Palace  Hotel,  and  have  this  big  "round  table"  lunch.   Fortune  magazine 
wanted  me  to  photograph  them.   So  I  arranged  with  Mr.  Lurie — Louis 
Lurie  was  in  that  group  and  he  was  very  helpful. 

One  person  was  very  nasty,  but  I  called  another  and  he  said,  "Oh 
sure,  you  can  do  it."  I  said,  "Well,  you  know,  it's  quite  a  little 
job.   To  get  you  all,  I'll  have  to  be  set  up.   When  the  lunch  is 
through,  you're  going  to  have  to  spend  maybe  fifteen  minutes  with  it." 
"Well,  we'll  do  that,"  said  my  friend. 

Ron  Partridge  was  helping  me.   (He  is  Imogen  Cunningham's  son.) 
I  got  the  camera  all  set  and  everything  looked  fine.  We  were  using 
large  flash  lamps.   I  had  five  lights.   But  at  that  time  the  only 
synchronization  you  could  get  was  a  switch  that  was  built  in  the  cable 
shutter  release.   You  pressed  in,  opening  the  shutter,  and  also  made 
electrical  contact.   Well,  it  usually  works  all  right.   The  contact 
operates  the  flash. 

But  this  was  one  of  the  last  buildings  in  San  Francisco  that 
still  had  direct  current,  instead  of  alternating  current.   And  it 
appears  that  when  you  make  such  a  contact  with  direct  current,  you 
get  a  flaming  arc  that  is  quite  surprising  when  unexpected  I 

So  here  I  am.   I  got  one  picture,  I  thought.   But  I  said,  "Well, 
I'll  have  to  get  another  one."  So  Ron  tore  around  town — almost 
arrested  for  speeding — to  find  a  contact  device.   In  the  meantime, 
I  had  a  Rolleiflex,  and  I  went  up  to  every  man  with  a  flash  gun  and  a 
globe  (I  had  no  film  in  the  Rolleiflex,  but  I  thought,  "I'm  going  to 
have  to  keep  this  going") — so  I  go  "click,  click,  click."  One  of  them 
said,  "I've  got  a  date."  I  said,  "Listen,  Ron  will  be  back  in  a 
minute.   And  after  all,  this  is  a  Fortune  magazine  job  I" 

So  back  comes  Ron  with  this  new  flash  contact,  and  we  got 
another  picture.   But  he  handled  it  separately.   I  counted;  I'd  say, 
"One,  two,  three."  On  "two"  I  opened  the  shutter  and  on  "three"  he 
operated  the  flash. 

Teiser:   You  were  holding  the  lens  open  while  he  shot  the  flash  globes? 

Adams:    I  was  holding  the  lens  open.   So  I'd  say,  "One,  two,  bang!" — Close. 
Then,  "Gentlemen,  you  can  go  home." 


Adams : 


Then  they  said,  "Well,  I  want  to  see  those  little  pictures  you  made; 
I'll  bet  they're  the  best  of  the  bunch." 

I  got  letters  later  [laughter].  And  I  couldn't  tell  them.   I 
said,  "Well,  I  had  a  disaster  with  that  too.  That  was  a  very  bad 
day,  gentlemen."  [Laughter]   That's  the  only  way  I  could  have  held 
them  fifteen,  twenty  minutes  sitting  there.   Such  things  happen  to 

Did  you  get  a  good  picture  in  the  end? 

Oh,  yes.   Fine.   I  still  have  a  print  somewhere, 
valuable  historical  image. 

It's  a  rather 

Now  it'd  be  so  simple!   You'd  take  it  with  available  light,  or 
just  bounce  a  couple  of  lights  around  the  room.   (It's  called  "bounce 
light,"  where  you  direct  strong  lights  against  the  wall.)  You  get  an 
effect  that  looks  like  available  light.   If  I  want  to  duplicate  the 
light  in  this  room,  the  only  way  would  be  to  reflect  it,  or  "bounce" 
it.  And  once  you  put  a  light  directly  on  the  subject  you  get  harsh 
shadows  and  you're  in  trouble.   But  then  you  were  working  with  slow 
film  at  32-64  ASA  at  the  highest.   And  now  we  work  with  400,  500  and 

Photographic  Printing  Papers 

Adams:   The  first  serious  job  was  Parmelian  Prints  of  the  Sierras,  a 

portfolio  of  original  prints.   And  I  did  a  frontispiece  for  the  Book 
Club* edition  of  [Robinson]  Jeffers's  poems,  which  (I'm  very  embarrassed) 
has  faded.   That  was  done  in  1928  or  1929.   We  didn't  know  about  fixing 
and  washing.   The  effect  was  probably  accelerated  a  bit  by  the 
character  of  the  paper  they  used  in  the  book — probably  a  lot  of  sulfur 
in  it. 

Teiser:   That  brings  up — how  did  it  happen  that  Dassonville  put  the  emulsion  on 
the  Taos  Pueblo  book  paper?  Wasn't  there  any  that  was  adequate? 

Adams:   Nothing  like  that.   The  idea  was  to  have  the  paper  the  same  throughout. 
The  special  rag  paper  had  to  be  ordered  anyway,  because  you  did  not 
then  just  go  and  buy  such  papers  in  book  quantity. 

We  ordered  an  ample  amount  in  rolls,  and  Dassonville  coated  a 
certain  number  of  them  with  his  bromide  emulsion. 

Teiser:   Could  that  be  done  now  in  a  very  expensive  book? 

*Book  Club  of  California. 


Adams:   Oh  yes,  but  you  would  have  troubles.   With  rag  paper  and  the  papers 
used  for  platinum  prints,  the  emulsion  sank  into  the  paper  fiber 
rather  than  lying  on  a  baryta  coating.   The  emulsion  was  pretty 
thick,  and  that  gave  quite  a  quality  of  "depth"  quite  different  from 
anything  you  see  today.   The  papers  today  are  baryta-coated.   Baryta 
is  a  clay,  and  the  paper  fibers  are  filled  with  this  clay,  making  it 
of  course  very  smooth.   Then  the  emulsion  4s  deposited  on  top  of  the 
clay.   Then,  to  get  different  textures,  such  as  "pebble,"  "silk,"  and 
"tapestry"  surfaces,  the  papers  are  put  through  calendars,  a  calendar 
meaning  a  roll  with  a  pattern.   It  could  be  a  perfectly  smooth 
surface  to  begin  with  and  then  ruined  by  this  treatment!   Practically 
all  of  these  "pictorial"  papers  you  see  are  calendared  into  surface 
patterns.   The  best  papers  today  are  chemically  very  pure,  given  a 
neutral  baryta  coating,  then  the  various  emulsions.   In  the  emulsion, 
the  degree  of  gloss  may  have  something  to  do  with  the  starch  grains 
that  are  incorporated.   If  you  put  more  starch  in  the  emulsion,  you 
reduce  the  gloss.   Now,  I'm  quite  sure  that  today  they  have  more 
complex  chemicals,  but  that's  what  Dassonville  did — he  could  make  a 
very,  very  flat  surface  quite  "dead:"  no  gloss  at  all.   Or  he  could 
leave  all  of  the  starch  out,  and  get  quite  a  nice  brilliant  finish. 

He  hated  to  leave  the  starch  out,  because  he  didn't  like  it  too 
brilliant.   I  wanted  it  as  brilliant  as  I  could  get  it. 

Now  what  we  can  do  today,  we  can  take  papers  of  that  type  and 
get  all  the  advantage  of  the  natural  paper  color,  and  then  we  can 
spray  them  with  a  neutral  lacquer  like  Krylon  or  Goodman  lacquer. 
As  far  as  we  know,  that's  permanent,  but  putting  a  varnish  on  them 
can  be  fatal.   They  used  varnish  in  printing  in  earlier  days,  and  it 

We  put  a  blancophor  into  the  paper  to  increase  the  whiteness, 
and  that  works  well  for  daylight.   Any  light  that  has  a  preponderance 
of  blue  rays  in  it  excites  these  blancophors  and  creates  a  fluorescent 
effect.   Some  of  the  papers  have  that,  and  there  is  a  difference  in 
the  whites  when  you  look  at  them.   But  it  drives  the  engravers  crazy 
because  it  fools  them  in  their  exposures.   These  emulsions  are 
sensitive  to  fluorescence  and  ultraviolet.   And  that  increases 
contrast.   Giving  the  engravers  a  sepia-toned  print  is  also  bad, 
because  their  films  aren't  sensitive  to  such  colors. 

See,  when  an  engraver  makes  a  color  reproduction  he  has  to  make 
color-separation  negatives  first  with  three  color-sensitive  films — 
red,  green,  and  blue  or  the  complementaries.   And  they  have  to  be 
made,  of  course,  on  panchromatic  film.   In  the  old  days,  when  they 
had  ordinary  or  orthochromatic  emulsion,  it  was  terribly  difficult  to 
get  the  red.   They  had  to  fake  the  red  sometimes,  and  color 
reproductions  could  be  very  bad.   When  they  get  their  three  black  and 
white  separation  negatives,  representing  the  three  colors,  then  they 
can  transfer  the  images  to  their  "plates." 


Writing  the  Basic  Photography  Books 

Adams:   Going  into  reproductions,  I  did  an  article  for  the  London  magazine, 
Studio.   They  liked  the  article  and  asked  me  if  I  would  do  the  book 
on  photography  in  their  "How  to  Do  It"  series,  in  which  they  had 
Levon  West,  the  etcher,  who  later  left  etching  and  took  up  photography 
and  was  known  as  Ivan  Dmitri.   He  was  a  pretty  good  etcher.  His  book 
on  etching,  I  understand,  is  excellent.   He  was  a  fair  photographer. 

Well,  I  did  this  book,  and  now  we're  thinking  of  reprinting  it 
just  as  an  historical  object,  because  it  was  at  the  time  one  of  the 
most  concise  works  on  straight  photography. 

Teiser:  What  is  it  called? 

Adams:   It's  called  Making  a  Photograph.   The  first  edition  was  in  1935.   I 
asked  for  good  reproductions,  and  they  agreed.   The  plates  were 
beautifully  made,  printed  on  very  smooth  paper,  and  tipped  in — which, 
of  course,  is  an  ideal  way  to  do  it.   It  gives  the  illusion  of  being 
originals,  but  if  one  corner  gets  dog-eared,  or  if  people  lift  them 
out,  you  know,  you  can  get  into  trouble. 

Now  there's  no  need  of  that  at  all  with  modern  double  offset. 
You  just  print  text  and  images  on  the  same  paper.   You  use  smooth 
paper,  and  then  you  can  apply  lacquer  with  what  is  called  tint  block 
on  the  press.   Lacquer  increases  brilliancy. 

But  Making  a  Photograph  in  1935  was  the  only  book  of  its  kind 
known  that  was  quite  that  simple  and  had  anything  like  those  repro 
ductions.   They  were  simply  marvelous. 

I  remember  going  into  Chicago  one  time,  waiting  for  a  train, 
and  went  to  a  big  bookshop,  where  there  were  a  lot  of  photographic 
books,  and  I  pointed  to  mine  and  I  said,  "How's  that  going?"  He 
said,  "Oh,  it's  going  fairly  well.   It's  written  by  one  of  those 
highbrow  Englishmen."  And  I  didn't  have  the  heart  to  tell  him  that 
I  was  the  author. 

It's  interesting  that  a  photographer  living  in  San  Francisco 
would  have  his  first  book  published  in  London,  or  the  first  book  of 
any  consequence  in  the  instructional  sense.   Now  that  I  say  that,  it 
sounds  very  conceited,  but  still  it  has  a  function  that's  very,  very 
good,  and  there  would  be  very  little  in  it  that  would  be  changed. 
Of  course  it  was  done  long  before  the  zone  system  appeared,  so  there 
was  no  real  analysis  of  exposure  development  and  control. 

Teiser:  Your  Morgan  &  Morgan  Basic  Photo  series — 


Adams:    First  there  was  Camera  and  Lens — Book  One.   That's  now  been  revised; 
it's  a  rather  handsome  304-page  book.   Now  I'm  working  on  revising 
the  others — The  Print.  The  Negative,  Natural-Light  Photography,  and 
Artificial-Light  Photography.   And  then  Book  Six  is  the  Polaroid 
manual  [Polaroid  Land  Photography  Manual^.   The  revised  edition  will 
probably  come  out,  if  all  goes  well,  very  soon.   But  as  soon  as  a 
book's  out,  they've  got  a  new  process!   The  first  edition  of  that 
was  very  bad,  because  PolaColor  came  out  right  after  the  book  was 
published;  I  knew  there  was  to  be  color,  but  I  had  no  idea  when  it 
was  coming,  and  they  couldn't  tell  me.   So  we  had  a  filler  inserted 

And  now  the  new  process,  the  SX-70  system,  which  is  a  fantastic 
achievement — that  will  be  in  the  revision.   God  knows  what  else 
Land's  got  up  his  sleeve. 

Teiser:   It  must  have  been  hard  to  sit  down  and  write. 

Adams:    Well,  I'm  very  glib.   I  need  an  awful  lot  of  editing,  but  I'm  very 
glib.   When  I  get  going  I  can  write  very  fast — quantities. 

Teiser:   But  those  books  are  so  precise. 

Adams:    Yes,  but  if  you  know  your  subject  you  can  write.   The  difficulty  is 
checking  to  be  sure  you  have  all  the  details  right,  and  when  you 
read  your  own  manuscript  you  find  that  you  often  overlooked  important 

I  got  a  letter  today.   I  mentioned  a  tripod  number,  403  733  A, 
Goldcrest.   Well,  this  man  writes,  "There  isn't  any  such  tripod. 
The  Goldcrest  people  say  it  probably  means  337  A."  What  it  was,  you 
see,  I'd  put  down  number  403  337  A,  and  the  typesetter  made  a 
mistake  in  his  composing  machine,  and  I  didn't  catch  that  in  time. 
I'm  going  to  have  now  an  editor  that  will  do  nothing  in  the  world 
except  check  word  for  word  and  number  for  number. 

Teiser:   Did  anyone  read  over  them? 

Adams:    Yes,  but  not  the  way  it  should  have  been.   Not  a  technical  person. 

I  had  another  instance  just  the  other  day.   A  man  wrote,  "In 
your  warm-tone  Glycin  formula  [page  14,  The  Print] ,  you  say  'potassium 
bromide,  four  grams',  and  right  under  it  you  say  'potassium  bromide, 
40  cc  at  10  percent  solution'."  I  never  caught  that.   It  should  have 
said  "or"  because  that's  the  same  thing.   He  said,  "Why  did  you  want 
to  put  that  in?  Why  didn't  you  just  use  more  bromide?"  Of  course, 
anybody  who  knew  about  it  would  realize  they  were  the  same,  but 
the  word  "or"  is  left  out. 


Adams:    You  say  that's  easy,  but  there's  hardly  a  scientific  book  that  comes 
out  that  doesn't  have  a  page  of  errata  in  it,  and  some  have  ten  or 
twelve  pages.   I've  seen  one  very  complicated  thing  on  the  photo- 
physical  chemistry  of  photography  that  had  four  or  five  pages  of 
errata — slight  changes  of  formula,  etc.   And  of  course  unless  you're 
a  mathematician,  you  wouldn't  realize  it,  but  when  a  mathematician 
tries  to  work  something  out  and  he  finds  something  wrong,  he  is 

Teiser:   When  you  work  on  such  technical  things,  do  you  take  whole  days,  or 
do  you  take  a  whole  period  when  you  don't  work  on  photographs? 

Adams:    Well,  realistically  I  should  just  cold-bloodedly  set  aside  a  month 
for  this  and  a  month  for  that ,  but  sometimes  I  go  at  it  for  several 
days,  and  then  suddenly  the  curtain  rings  down.   I've  completely 
lost  the  facility  to  think.   I'm  loaded  with  work  continuously.   So  I 
go  on  to  do  something  else.   And  when  I  did  the  book  on  the  University 
[Fiat  Lux] ,  I  couldn't  stay  more  than  three  or  four  days  in  one  place 
because  after  that  I  just  stopped  "seeing."  I  could  say,  "Oh,  I  have 
to  do  a  picture  of  that  building,"  and  it  meant  nothing.   So  I'd 
"pogo-stick"  to  another  campus  and  then  have  several  days  of 
excitement,  and  then  all  of  a  sudden  you  don't  see  any  more  and  you 
must  move  on. 

The  Zone  System 

Teiser:   Your  writings  on  the  Zone  System — 

Adams:    There  are  so  many  versions  of  the  Zone  System.   They  all  come  out 
right,  but  the  best  one,  the  clearest  one,  is  in  the  Polaroid  Land 
[Photography]  Manual.   People  buy  the  Manual  just  for  that,  and  I 
never  realized  that.   It  is  a  kind  of  distillation  and  applies  the 
principles  step  by  step,  in  much  clearer  style  than  the  other 

Teiser:   You  said  that  Minor  White's  article  or  pamphlet  on  the  Zone  System 
was  an  extension  of  your  work? 

Adams:    He  has  a  booklet.   He's  doing  a  new  one,  which  I  haven't  seen  yet, 
which  goes  into  the  mystical  interpretation  of  photography.   It 
worries  me  a  little  because  I  think  he's  inclined  to  go  off  the  beam 
and  be  inexplicable  (is  that  the  word  to  use?).   It's  a  form  of 
"camera  as  therapy,"  and  I  don't  know;  between  you  and  me,  it's  not 
entirely  healthy,  it's  too  mystical.   It's  a  constant  justification 
and  explanation,  where  photography  should  be  a  rather  simple  thing. 


Adams:    But  he  has  some  very  good  exercises,  and  details  for  working  out  the 
Zone  System,  for  students.   I  find  it  very  complex,  and  he  makes  a 
few  errors,  which  I  think  are  deplorable.   It  isn't  whether  he  agrees 
with  me.   I  didn't  invent  the  Zone  Syst<fa.   I  simply  codified 
sensitometry.   If  you  want  to  juggle  with  it  and  say,  "Well,  you 
know,  you  can't  print  Zone  I,  so  we'll  start  with  Zone  II,"  that 
isn't  scientific.   That  isn't  sensitometry,  you  see.  [Laughter]   I 
can't  say,  "Look,  you're  hurting  my  system.  You  can't  do  that."  I 
just  say,  "It's  not  right.   It  doesn't  stand  the  test;  you  have  to 
begin  one  end  of  the  exposure  scale  at  Zone  I." 

There's  a  man  in  Sacramento  who  thinks  he  can  get  by  with  five 
zones.  Well,  if  he  wants  to  do  it,  okay.   But  it's  still  not  right 
in  sensitometry.   The  values  that  we  can  refer  to  with  confidence 
are  in  geometric  ratios.   And  if  you  know  anything  about  lenses, 
you  know  how  the  stops  of  lenses  progress  from,  say,  f/8,  f/11,  f/16, 
and  so  on.   The  point  is  that  the  f/8  means  the  focal  ratio  of  the 
diameter  of  the  stop  to  the  focal  length  of  the  lens  at  infinity. 
So  f/8  means  the  diameter  of  that  stop  is  one-eighth  of  its  focal 
length  at  infinity.   So  therefore  f/8  is  a  factor  number  that  relates 
to  any  focal  length  lens,  one  inch  to  twenty  inches.   F/8  will  always 
be  a  stop  in  that  ratio,  and  will  always  transmit  the  same  amount  of 
light,  no  matter  what  the  size  of  the  lens  is. 

Then  you  go  on  f/11,  f/16,  so  you  think  f/16  would  be  one-half 
of  f/8,  that  it  would  let  in  one-half  the  light.   But  you're  working 
with  the  area  of  a  circle,  and  that  means  f/16  is  letting  in  one- 
fourth  the  amount  of  light  f/8  does,  because  a  circle  one-half  inch 
across  has  only  one-fourth  the  area  of  a  circle  one  inch  across.  To 
set  one-half  the  exposure  you  multiply  eight  by  the  square  root  of 
two,  1.414  (here's  geometry  again)  and  then  you  get  f/11. 3.   You 
actually  progress  at  11.3,  16,  22.6,  32,  45.2 — those  would  be  the 
exact  numbers,  but  we  approximate  them  by  just  saying  8,  11,  16,  and 
22,  etc. 

Well,  some  people  don't  know  what  a  square  root  is.   They  know 
what  a  square  is  but  not  a  root.   It's  just  basic  geometry.   Now, 
there  used  to  be  the  old  U.S.  system,  which  meant  "universal  system," 
and  they  started  at  f/16  being  the  same  as  U.S.  16.   And  then,  f/8 
passed  two  times,  f/4  passed  four  times,  f/2  passed  eight  times  the 
amount  of  light,  with  ascending  numbers  like  16,  32,  64,  128,  256. 
Every  one  was  doubled,  and  it  meant  2X,  4X,  8X,  16X,  and  32X  instead 
of  4X,  16X,  64X,  256X,  etc. 

The  Europeans,  instead  of  having  f/8  as  the  base,  used  f/9 — but 
the  same  thing.   You  get  f/12.7,  f/18,  f/25— the  ratio  is  always  the 
same.  And  ASA  speed  numbers  are  64,  125,  256,  and  between  each  of 
those  are  two  other  numbers — like  32,  40,  50,  64;  100,  125,  256. 
And  if  you  once  get  that  geometric  idea  in  your  mind,  fine!   But 


Adams:   meters  come  out  with  exposure  values  with  arithmetic  numbers,  but 

which  have  geometric  significance — all  very  confusing.   On  the  Weston 
5  meter,  number  twelve  was  equal  to  100  candles  per  square  foot, 
number  thirteen  equal  to  200,  number  fourteen  equal  to  400.   So  in 
reading  these  numbers,  you  really  have  to  think  geometrically.   But 
many  people  don't  think,  they  just  take  for  granted  a  number  on  the 
dial.   They  put  it  on  the  "arrow"  and  they  read  the  exposure.  You're 
just  pressing  buttons  without  any  knowledge  of  what's  happening,  and 
I  think  that's  very  serious.   And  the  exposure  formula  is  so 
absolutely  simple  once  you  know  it.   You  don't  need  any  dials;  you 
take  the  readings  of  your  subject. 

A  typical  example  would  be  if  I  want  to  make  a  picture  in 
Yosemite,  and  it's  a  contrasty  day,  but  I  want  to  get  a  tone  value 
III  in  the  tree  shadows,  and  those  tree  shadows  read  6.5  c/ft^.   I 
put  6.5  c/ft  on  Zone  HI,  go  to  13  on  IV  and  25  on  V,  which  is  the 
"geometric  mean."  So  the  exposure  is  1/25  of  a  second  at  the  lens 
stop  number,  which  is  the  equivalent  of  the  square  root  of  the  ASA 
speed  number.   And  people  collapse.   And  then  you  try  to  explain 
again  and  say,  "Well,  that's  nothing.   Now  you  know  you  have  25 
opposite  V,  so  that's  1/25  of  a  second;  that's  simple.  And  if  you're 
using  ASA  64,  the  square  root  is  eight,  so  it  would  be  1/25  at  f/8" 
(that's  your  base  exposure;  you  don't  need  a  dial).   Or  if  you're 
using  125  ASA,  that  would  be  f/11,  or  ASA  250  would  be  f/16.   You 
just  memorize  a  little  table  of  squares.   Kodachrome  at  25  would  be 
f/5.  The  whole  idea  of  photographic  exposure  is  really  a  geometric 
system.   That  doesn't  mean  that  you  don't  work  between  stops  to 
balance  and  control.   The  Polaroid  electric  eye  camera  is  extremely 
sensitive,  and  you  don't  think  of  any  f  stops  or  shutter  speed  there; 
you  know  it's  calibrated  to  render  a  single  surface  luminance  with 
a  value  VI.  And  there's  reason  for  that.   It  automatically  registers 
the  values  in  this  infinite  series  of  adjustments,  but  you  can  make 
it  lighter  or  darker,  according  to  the  contrast  of  the  scene,  by 
using  the  lighten-darken  (L.D.)  control.   But  the  theory  is  exactly 
the  same . 

Meters  and  Automation 

Adams:   In  the  earlier  days,  we  did  everything  "by  grace  and  by  God"  and  by 

tables.   I  had  a  little  meter — a  tint  meter — that  would  use  sensitive 
paper  and  there  would  be  two  reference  colors,  light  and  dark  green, 
or  light  and  medium  green.   And  you'd  hold  it  in  the  light  and  count 
seconds  until  the  sensitive  paper  was  the  same  color  as  one  of  the 
reference  colors.   But  of  course  it's  very  hard  to  do,  to  be  exact, 
because  your  eye  doesn't  like  to  make  that  kind  of  decision,  you  see, 


Adams:    especially  if  there's  an  edge.   But  you  count,  say,  fifteen  seconds 
and  then  you  relate  that  to  some  mark,  and  you  set  the  exposure.   It 
was  fairly  accurate  if  your  eyes  weren't  too  tired. 


Then  I  had  extinction  meters,  where  you  look  in  and  see  a  wedge, 
and  you  look  at  the  scene  through  it,  and  you  read  the  highest  number 
you  can  see — it  might  be  six,  it  might  be  fifteen.  The  tragedy  was, 
if  you  came  out  of  a  very  bright  light  you'd  see  a  very  low  number, 
and  then  the  longer  you  looked  at  it,  the  higher  and  higher  and 
higher  the  number  you'd  see.  [Laughter]   So  you  had  to  sort  of  balance 
that  out.   If  I  was  sitting  here  now,  I  could  look  in  this  room  and 
I'd  trust  what  I  read.   But  if  I  were  looking  out  at  the  ocean  for  a 
while  and  then  tried  to  read  in  the  room,  it  would  take  me  about  two 
minutes  before  I  was  confident  that  I  was  seeing  the  correct  number. 

Then  the  Weston  meter  came  out,  which  used  the  selenium  cell, 
which  is  a  self-generating  cell — selenium  on  one  side.   As  light 
strikes  this  material,  it  creates  energy  and  works  an  ammeter.   The 
Weston  cell  was  a  great  invention,  and  it's  used  in  many,  many  ways, 
and  it's  probably  one  of  the  most  accurate  and  dependable  of  all  the 
meter  devices.   The  only  thing  that  can  go  off  is  the  little 
electrical  ammeter,  which  is  working  on  a  very  low  current.   The 
current  is  just  generated  in  the  cell  entirely  by  light.   There's  no 
batteries  in  the  meter  at  all. 

Then  the  next  step  was  the  cadmium  sulphide  cell,  which  is 
extremely  sensitive  and  is  operated  with  a  very  small  battery.  But 
it  is  inclined  to  be  very  erratic.   It  has  to  be  primed.  You  have  to 
show  it  the  light  for  a  little  while.  That's  the  average  cell, 
although  the  one  Dr.  Land  uses  is  apparently  "capsulated"  and  gives 
immediate  response. 

And  now  most  of  the  meters  out  on  the  market — Weston  Nine  and 
the  Gossen  meter  and  the  Pentax  and  all  those  in  the  cameras — are 
based  on  little  sulphide  cells. 

Then  there's  the  standard  visual  photometer,  like  the  S.E.I. 
meter  (made  in  England).   That's  probably  the  best  thing  of  its  kind 
made  within  the  price;  you  can  get  photometers  up  to  four  figures. 
But  this  one  has  a  battery  and  a  light,  and  you  adjust  this  light  to 
a  fixed  brightness,  which  properly  illuminates  the  comparison  cube. 
Now  you  match  the  light  from  the  scene  through  a  little  telescope  by 
operating  the  main  rheostat  until  it  matches  the  fixed  brightness 
spot.   That  gives  you  the  photometric  measurement.   But  that  is  using 
a  fixed  value  to  match — not  like  the  extinction  meter,  which  depended 
entirely  on  whether  the  eye  could  see  a  number  or  not  in  a  dark  field. 

The  S.E.I,  meter  has  a  diameter  of  field  of  view  of  one  degree. 
They've  increased  it  a  little  bit  lately — it's  one  and  a  half  now,  I 
think.  So  that  means  I  can  take  the  shadow  on  that  tree  trunk,  and 


Adams:    I  can  take  the  white  rock,  and  the  highlight  on  that  lamp,  and  the 

white  picture  frame  with  the  picture  on  the  white  mat  from  here,  you 
see.   You  just  put  the  dot  on  it,  and  turn  this  thing  until  the  values 
match.   That's  really  a  great  invention,  because  it  gives  you  command 
of  what  you're  doing.   All  on  the  assumption  that  your  shutter  and 
your  diaphragm  are  correct  and  that  your  film  and  developer  are 
properly  functioning. 

[End  Tape  6,  Side  1] 
[Begin  Tape  6,  Side  2] 
Teiser:   Have  you  had  any  experience  with  the  light  cell  in  the  camera? 

Adams:   That's  a  new  development  which  is  primarily  a  gadget  to  sell  cameras 
to  indulgent  and  wealthy  amateurs.   It's  extremely  clever  and  many 
are  extremely  well  made.   If  it  is  a  meter  which  averages  the  light 
coming  in  over  the  entire  field — it's  like  holding  a  Weston  meter  up 
to  the  field  of  view.   If  it's  a  spot  meter,  then  you  have  the 
inevitable  selection  of  what  you  point  it  at,  because  the  spot 
doesn't  know;  it  will  respond  to  the  tree  shadow,  and  to  the  water, 
and  will  control  the  exposure  accordingly.   I've  made  tests  with  the 
new  Leicaflex,  and  it  was  extremely  accurate — a  beautiful  piece  of 
equipment — but  I  still  had  to  make  up  my  mind,  putting  the  spot  on  a 
snowbank  or  on  a  tree,  and  the  exposure  will  always  be  on  the 
geometric  mean. 

Now  they  have  new  meters  which  are  a  combination  of  the  two, 
which  probably  is  a  little  better.   But  the  camera  can't  make  the 
aesthetic  selection  if  it  is  purely  automatic.   It  can  approximate 
it.   But  as  90  percent  of  the  pictures  taken  are  of  people,  most 
cameras  and  systems  are  calibrated  to  flesh  tones.   So  if  you  point 
this  box,  this  finder  with  the  spot  meter,  at  the  skin  of  a  person, 
you  will  get  a  reading  which  will  put  that  on  the  proper  point  on  the 
exposure  scale.   God  help  you  for  anything  else,  because  everything 
you  point  it  at  will  come  out  at  the  same  point  on  the  scale. 

I  went  through  this  whole  complex  scene  in  Yosemite  with  my 
photometer,  and  the  Leica  meter  was  very  accurate.   But  still,  that 
was  just  the  meter.   Now  what  do  I  do_  with  it?  Do  I  want  to  place 
that  tree  shadow  on  Zone  V?   I  might  want  it  at  Zone  II.   Where  do 
I  put  it?   So  the  only  way  you  can  control  that  situation  is  to  set 
your  ASA  and  set  the  related  lens  stop.   You  then  control  the  shutter 
speed  dial  until  the  needles  match,  and  then  you  have  the  candles  per 
square  foot. 

Teiser:   So  it's  more  trouble  to  override  the  automatic  system  than  not? 


Adams:   Oh,  it's  terrible.   It's  much  better  to  have  a  separate  meter,  read 
it  and  set  the  camera  accordingly.   But  then  some  automatic  cameras 
don't  like  to  be  "overridden."  I've  se^n  people  with  cameras  that 
cost  hundreds  and  hundreds  of  dollars  completely  frustrated;  they 
had  no  idea  what  was  happening,  and  they  were  getting  terrible 
results.   The  camera  was  doing  the  best  it  could — beautiful  optics — 
but  the  user  had  no  knowledge  of  what  to  do. 

Teiser:   I  suppose  there  will  be  a  whole  lot  of  people  who  adapt  themselves 
to  the  automatic  camera. 

Adams:   Oh,  there  are  now,  yes,  to  a  certain  extent.   But  see,  where  the 

Polaroid  is  so  far  ahead  of  them  is  that  with  the  Polaroid  electric 
eye  receptor  you  have  the  ability  to  make  it  lighter  or  darker.   Now 
that's  not  too  easy  in  the  standard  camera.   You  have  to  change  stops 
or  shutter  speeds.  Well,  what  are  you  changing,  you  see?   In  the 
Polaroid  you  can  change  two  stops  to  light  and  one  to  dark.   They're 
going  to  try  to  get  it  two  stops  each  way.   And  that's  a  very 
intricate  little  system,  but  they  can  put  it  on  their  very  cheap 
cameras.   And  when  you  press  the  shutter  it  releases  a  certain  amount 
of  current  that  controls  the  electronic  mechanism. 

Now  we  are  getting  those  cameras  that  have  electric  drives.   The 
Hasselblad  electric  is  just  simply  winding  the  film  and  setting  the 
shutter.   It  doesn't  control  the  exposure,  thank  God.   But  you  can 
put  it  on  sequence,  take  a  picture  every  second,  or  you  can  just 
press  the  button  and  have  one  image.   They  sent  me  one,  but  really, 
I  still  have  enough  strength  to  wind  the  film!  [Laughter]   But  it 
really  is  wonderful  when  you  have  these  70-millimeter  magazines  with 
many,  many  exposures  to  make  in  sequence.  You're  doing,  say,  a 
series  of  portraits,  and  you're  talking,  and  you  just  press  this 
button,  and  press  and  press;  it's  "sh-sh-sh,"  like  that.   But  that's 
not  exposure  reading;  it's  something  else. 

Now  some  equipment  has  electronic  shutter  control,  and  they're 
having  a  little  trouble.   They're  awfully  complex,  you  know.   Polaroid 
is  the  only  one  that,  so  far,  has  been  able  to  make  these  things  in 
quantity.   Everybody  else  has  had  trouble.   I  guess  Kodak  is  all 
right  with  the  Instamatic.   And  they  use  the  same  general  principle. 
Unfortunately,  that  principle  of  electronic  exposure  was  not  patent- 
able — not  controllable  by  Polaroid.   The  thing  was  patented  many, 
many  years  ago,  and  it's  now  in  the  public  domain.   It  wasn't  used  in 
shutters.   It  was  used  in  scientific  instruments.   It  was  used  first 
in  engraving,  so  no  matter  what  happened  to  the  fluctuating  arc  lights, 
the  exposure  would  always  be  the  same.   And  this  was  called  an 
accumulator.   There  would  be  a  little  meter  on  a  copy  board  in  the 
engraving  camera.   They'd  set  the  exposure,  say,  for  three  minutes, 
and  then  the  meter  would  take  care  of  it  and  balance  all  lighting 
variations.   All  these  things  are  so  interesting  technically,  and 
they  all  had  their  roots  in  various  applications,  long  before  they 
were  thought  of  in  actual  field  camera  work. 


Technique  in  Relation  to  Aesthetics 

Teiser:  When  you  were  a  youngster,  were  you  interested  in  optical  instruments? 
Adams:   Oh,  yes,  I  loved  instruments — always  been  an  instrument  lover. 
Teiser:   Were  you  interested  in  your  father's  astronomical  instruments? 

Adams:   Yes,  oh  yes.   Of  course,  we  only  had  a  small  telescope, 
go  up  to  Lick  Observatory,  see  the  big  telescope. 

We  used  to 

The  thing  to  get  over  is  this:   that  I  think  my  contribution, 
if  there  is  one  (the  creative  work  is  something  which  only  critics 
of  photographic  history  can  say  whether  I  did  any  pictures  of 
importance  or  not — I'm  conceited  enough  to  think  I  did  a  few) — the 
main  thing  is  that,  as  far  as  I  know,  I'm  the  first  one  that 
codified  technique  in  relation  to  aesthetics.   You  see,  now  there 've 
been  many,  many  people  who've  codified  technique  in  relation  to  just 
facts — exposure  and  instrumental  control  and  all  that,  and  far 
beyond  anything  I've  done  in  physical  accuracy.   You  know,  when 
you're  making  photographs  in  terms  of  nanoseconds  and  tracing  spark 
gaps,  and  doing  things  from  the  U-2  plane  with  slit-shutter  cameras 
at  sixty  or  seventy  thousand  feet  or  higher  (and  you  can  see  gravel 
on  the  railroad  beds) — these  are  optical  achievements  that  are 
infinitely  beyond  me. 

But  as  far  as  I  know,  and  as  far  as  other  people  know,  I'm  the 
first  one  to  have  said  you  can  control  exposure  and  development  in 
relation  to  aesthetics,  not  just  in  relation  to  the  photometric 
equivalent.   And  the  photometric  equivalent  means  the  light  measure 
ment  which  has  the  proportionate  values  of  the  subject,  getting  a 
negative,  and  then,  with  light  passing  through  the  negative,  getting 
the  value  equivalent  of  the  negative  on  the  print.   It's  called  the 
photometric  equivalent,  and  it  has  nothing  to  do  with  expression.   It 
relates  to  an  approximate  simulation  of  reality.   And,  in  aesthetics, 
we  attempt  departures  from  reality,  whether  we  do  them  by  trick  and 
by  guess  in  the  darkroom  or  whether  we  do  them  all  ahead  of  time  by 
visualization . 

I  remember  one  of  Minor  White's  great  achievements.   By  the  way, 
he's  one  of  the  great  photographers,  and  I  have  the  utmost  affection 
and  respect  for  him,  so  when  I  criticize  what  he  did  with  the  Zone 
System,  that  just  means  the  difference  of  technical  application. 
But  he  did  a  series  of  photographs  of  performances  of  Ibsen's  Ghosts 
in  San  Francisco,  and  in  doing  this,  he  wanted  to  give  the  nonliteral 
feeling  of  the  unworldliness  of  the  characters.   It  was  done  very 
simply  by  just  using  the  Zone  System,  placing  the  skin  values  very 
high.   So  all  these  people  in  the  images  are  white — very  pale,  very 


Adams:   unreal.   And  then,  you  see,  it's  not  just  value.   If  you  go  up  the 
top  of  the  curve,  it  flattens  off,  and  your  contrasts  become  less, 
so  the  face  would  become  smoother,  much  higher  in  value,  much  less 
defined.   But  you  can  visualize  all  tha*t.   So  that  is,  I  think,  the 
contribution  which  is  now  being  pretty  well  accepted. 

Science  and  the  Creative  Photographer 

Adams:   I  had  the  funny  comment  of  a  photo  technician  from,  I  think  it  was, 
Eastman.   He  says,  "You  know  I'm  up  there  in  that  pretty  hard-boiled 
lab,  and  we're  working  with  some  of  the  most  complex  photochemistry 
and  physics  that's  going  today  but,"  he  says,  "when  I  want  to  know 
something  about  photography,  I  read  your  books."  [Laughter]   I  said, 
"Well,  thank  you.   I  understand  the  difference."  You  should  see 
sometime  one  of  the  technical  manuals!   You  know,  it's  just  up  in  the 
domain  of  higher  mathematics  and  advanced  physical  chemistry.   But 
everything  has  its  place,  and  that's  what  enables  them  to  make  the 
materials  that  we  people  can  throw  around  in  a  so-called  creative 

Even  at  this  late  date,  they  are  not  absolutely  sure  what 
happens  in  the  formation  of  the  latent  image.   You've  got  a  silver 
crystal,  which  is  a  nice-looking  triangular  crystal — different  sizes — 
I  forget  the  name  of  it — it's  got  bevels  and  edges,  but  it's  primarily 
a  triangle.   And  that  is  silver  halide,  composed  of  silver  bromide, 
chloride  or  iodide  in  different  proportions.   And  then,  light  strikes 
that  crystal  and  changes  it  to  the  "latent  image."  It's  a  matter  of 
the  quantum  theory,  if  you  want  to  really  describe  it,  which  I  can't. 
It  relates  to  the  production  of  "electron  holes"  in  this  crystal,  and 
when  this  condition  is  established  by  the  action  of  light,  the 
crystal  is  then  developable,  and  these  holes  then  attract  developing 
agents,  and  the  silver  crystal  is  reduced  to  metallic  silver.   That's 
a  very  crude  description.   A  scientist  would  probably  be  aghast — but 
I  mean,  that's  about  what  happens. 

So  then  when  you  develop  your  image,  your  image  is  metallic 
silver,  but  there's  all  kinds  of  silver  halide  still  left  in  the 
emulsion.   Then  you  put  the  negative  or  print  into  the  hypo  bath  (the 
sodium  thiosulphate  solution)  which  removes  unexposed  and  undeveloped 
silver  halides  remaining.   So  you  have  left  the  pure  silver  image, 
which  in  the  electron  microscope  appears  as  filaments — looks  like 
seaweed.   The  negative  in  principle  is  about  the  same  as  the  print. 
But  with  the  Polaroid  print,  instead  of  having  a  comparatively  coarse 
grained  image  like  a  conventional  print,  it's  ionic  silver  that's 
deposited.   It's  attracted  across  the  developer  to  the  receiving 
sheet,  and  the  positive  image  appears.   These  of  course  are  too  small 


Adams:   to  be  seen,  even  in  the  electron  microscope.   But  the  ionic  silver 

depositions  (and  there  is  a  kind  of  a  structure),  when  that  gets  too 
compact  you  have  something  like  silver  plating,  and  the  surface  of 
the  print  will  show  what  they  call  "gilding,"  a  metallic  sheen. 

So  if  you  take  a  four  by  five  print — conventional  print — and 
you  could  consider  the  surface  area  of  all  those  crystals,  it  would 
probably  be  as  big  as  this  room.   If  you  took  a  Polaroid  print  and 
could  lay  out  the  surface  of  all  the  particles,  it  would  probably 
total  an  acre.   And  that  is  why  it's  extremely  susceptible  to  any 
chemical  contamination,  because  of  this  large  surface,  which  picks 
up  sulphur  and  other  chemicals.   Silver  loves  sulphur!   Sulphur  does 
not  "degenerate"  silver,  it's  just  silver  going  to  its  most  stable 
compound  form.   That's  why  an  ordinary  photomural  is  usually  toned 
to  an  "egg  yolk  brown,"  sepia  tone.   It  is  really  silver  sulphide, 
and  that's  permanent.   The  problem  is  to  keep  plain  silver  from  turn 
ing  to  silver  sulphide.  When  a  picture  fades,  like  mine  (and  many 
others')  did  in  the  earlier  days,  it  was  because  the  print  was  in  a 
condition  to  combine  with  sulphur. 

Teiser:   Why  in  the  world  did  people  make  sepia  prints? 

Adams:    I  think  largely  for  that  reason — they  were  relatively  permanent. 

Besides  they  weren't  just  that  ugly  old  black-and-white;  they  had  a 
romantic  [laughter] — a  romantic  color  to  them.   There  are  all  stages 
of  tone.   You  can  get  a  blue-black  and  a  neutral  black  and  a  brown- 
green  black  and  a  selenium  purple-brown  black.  My  prints  are  toned 
to  get  away  primarily  from  this  peculiar  green-brownish  tone  (there's 
more  green  in  it  than  anything  else)  of  the  commercial  paper.   That 
seems  to  be  the  natural  tone  of  the  silver  image. 

Teiser:   I  think  of  these  big  brown  Southern  Pacific  photographs. 

Adams:   They  had  to  be  that  color  because  there  was  no  way  they  could  process, 
at  that  time,  without  toning,  with  any  permanence.   Sepia  toning  was 
done  by  bleaching  and  redevelopment.   There  are  "matrices"  in  the 
gelatin.   The  gelatin  is  a  very  strange,  stable  substance  and  keeps 
its  form  even  in  submicroscopic  pattern.   And  there  are  sulphur  and 
silver  nuclei  left  therein.   They're  invisible,  so  the  print  after 
bleaching  has  practically  no  image  at  all.   And  then  you  redevelop, 
and  the  image  that  was  silver  before  has  now  become  silver  sulphide. 
And  silver  sulphide  is  inert.   I  suppose  some  things  would  affect  it — 
stains,  and  all  that — but  it's  basically  permanent.  Very  seldom  you 
see  a  brown  sepia  print  that's  really  turning  or  fading. 

Teiser:   I  was  wondering,  when  you  were  speaking  yesterday  about  the  develop 
ment  of  the  Land  process:   I  remember,  oh  I  suppose  in  the  thirties, 
at  Fisherman's  Wharf,  there  used  to  be  a  man  with  a  camera,  and  you 
would  wait  for  a  couple  of  minutes,  and  he  would  give  you  kind  of  a 
funny  little  picture  on  metal — 


Adams:   Tintype. 
Teiser:  — instantly. 

Adams:   Well,  the  machine  was  pretty  clever.   I  don't  really  know  the 
process.   It's  not  very  permanent. 

Teiser:   No.   The  one  I  have  has  faded. 

Adams:   It  could  be — but,  well,  you  have  several  methods — reversal  processes, 
for  instance.   I  just  can't  tell  you  what  they  used. 

Teiser:   I  think  it  had  been  used  for  many  years  before  that — 

Adams:   Oh,  many  years.   It's  an  old,  old  process.   But  it  isn't  a  very 

attractive  process.   It's  very  dull,  whereas  the  daguerreotype  is 
very  beautiful.   I  think  the  name  for  a  daguerreotype,  "mirror  with 
a  memory,"  is  one  of  the  great  verbal  descriptions. 

But  you  see,  one  of  the  problems  we  have  in  portraiture  is 
satisfying  the  subject,  and  the  daguerreotype  was  extremely  success 
ful  in  portraiture  because  it  gave  a  mirror  image.   When  you  looked 
at  the  daguerreotype,  you  saw  yourself  as  you  look  to  yourself  in 
the  mirror.   And  sometimes  we  look  very  different  to  others  than  we 
do  in  the  mirror.   I  can't  see  myself  at  all  except  in  the  mirror. 
Now,  when  I  see  a  picture  of  myself,  I  sometimes  say,  "Well,  that's 
not  what  I  see  every  morning  when  I'm  putting  Vitalis  on  what's  left 
of  my  hair."  [Laughs] 

I  must  say,  there  have  been  a  multitude  of  processes  developed 
in  the  history  of  photography.   And  now  it's  boiled  down  to  the 
processes  as  you  see  them,  plus  the  fact  that  we're  getting  into 
some  forms  of  dye  or  electrostatic  photography  like  Xerox.   And 
every  laboratory  is  just  working  twenty-nine  hours  a  day  trying  to 
get  a  nonsilver  process,  but  for  some  strange  reason,  way  back  in  the 
1830s,  silver  halides  were  found  to  be  the  only  practical  light- 
sensitive  material.   And  when  you  speak  of  platinum  or  palladium 
processes,  those  salts  are  not  sensitive  in  themselves,  but  they 
ride  on  a  ferric  process.   This  process  is  very  slow,  but  it  can 
produce  beautiful  image  qualities. 

The  Polaroid  is  a  total  miracle  and  is  not  just  one  thing;  it 
is  a  system  of  very  many,  very  complex  processes  which  are 
constantly  advancing,  changing  and  adapting. 

I  wish  you  could  see  the  patent  for  the  new  camera  in  process. 
You  can  buy  one.   I  don't  recall  how  many  pages  it  is,  but  there's 
about  sixteen  pages  listing  the  organic  compounds  that  can  be  used. 
An  interesting  thing  is  that  there  were  two  hundred  copies  ordered 


Adams:   by  Eastman  Kodak  Company!  [Laughter]   Perhaps  they're  trying  to 
find  some  loophole  in  these  patents,  you  see,  where  they  can  get 
through.   Polaroid  has  a  large  staff  of  patent  experts. 

Polaroid  started  out  with  a  silver  sulphide  image,  a  brown 
image,  and  then  advanced  that  to  black  and  white.   And  they 
achieved  two  hundred  speed.   I  don't  really  know  the  details,  and 
I'm  not  authorized  to  say  if  I  did  know,  but  I  know  that  the  process 
is  constantly  being  refined  year  by  year.   Then  they  achieved  four 
thousand  speed!   Land  was  out  in  San  Francisco  before  we  moved  down 
here,  and  he  had  an  experimental  twenty- thousand-speed  film!  We 
were  taking  pictures  by  starlight,  out  the  window,  at  a  fifth  of  a 
second.   They  weren't  very  good  quality  prints,  but  they  were 
informative  images.   Now  they  have  a  film  that's  on  the  market  that 
is  used  with  the  oscilloscope — ten  thousand  ASA  speed,  and  that 
enables  the  recording  of  very  faint,  really  very  faint,  images. 

For  some  reason,  the  quantum  theory  limits  the  "speed"  of 
emulsions  (ASA  rating)  to  about  forty  thousand.   Without  electronic 
image  amplification  you  couldn't  go  possibly  beyond  forty  thousand. 

But  a  whole  new  world  opens  up  with  the  vidicom  tube;  modern 
X-ray  technique  is  a  fine  example  of  that  application.   Now  they're 
using  it  in  astronomy  and  seeing  things  that  are  totally  beyond 
visual  and  ordinary  photographic  recording.   So  maybe  one  of  the 
next  developments  will  be  a  light  amplification  system,  where  your 
image  will  be  produced  in  numbers,  like  in  the  Mars  pictures.   They 
don't  come  back  in  pictures,  they  come  back  in  a  continuous  series 
of  numbers.   And  there's  an  image  put  together,  and  it's  about  one 
or  two  centimeters  square,  I  think. 

The  Mars  system  is  so  marvelous!   The  image  is  made  photo 
graphically;  then  a  scanner  moves  across.   It  has  128  levels  of 
intensity,  which  are  translated  as  numbers.   They're  given  a  code 
number  on  the  tape.   Now,  when  the  scanner  reverses  direction  it's 
sending  in  the  response  of  a  lot  of  other  instruments  on  board.   The 
next  cross-scan  is  of  the  image.   So  what  they  get  here  is  equivalent 
to  an  endless  tape  with  numbers.   Every  so  often,  those  are  put 
together,  and  they  become  a  stack  of  strips.   Then  they're  translated 
into  density  values,  and  you  have  your  picture. 

From  the  moon  we  had  actual  pictures,  but  from  Mars  we  have 
nothing  but  numbers  which  make  pictures  so  sharp  and  remarkable  that 
it  is  almost  unbelievable. 


Sensitometry  as  a  Creative  Tool 

Adams:   Well,  anyway,  this  whole  idea  is  of  scientific  interest — I  think  I 
should  clarify  that  statement.   In  no  way  could  I  be  labeled  a 
scientist  or,  in  the  classic  sense,  a  technician.   I  don't  know 
enough  and  don't  have  the  capacity  to  use  the  technical  facts  of 
this  world  in  any  other  way  but  applying  them  to  creative  work.   So 
the  emphasis  should  be,  I  think,  in  the  fact  that  in  codifying  the 
Zone  System,  I  made  sensitometry  available  as  a  tool  for  creative 
people  who  wish  to  express  themselves  or  depart  from  reality;  but  it 
is  at  a  very  simple  level.   In  other  words,  there  are  several  words 
that  are  different:   "approximate"  and  "precise"  and  "exact."  Most 
people  approximate;  I  think  I  approach  the  precise,  but  I  can't 
presume  to  be  exact — there's  too  many  decimal  points  involved! 
[Laughter]   And  if  I  use  the  square  root  of  2 — it  is  1.41422,  and 
that's  far  beyond  the  precision  I  need.  Well,  1.4  would  be  enough 
for  all  practical  purposes,  like  developing.   Take  8  and  multiply  it 
by  1.4 — it's  closer  to  11.3  in  reality,  because  when  you  multiply  by 
1.414  you  get  11.312.   So  how  precise  do  you  have  to  be? 

So  I  mean  I  mustn't  be  represented  as  a  scientist  or  a  real 
technician.   I'd  like  to  be  known  as  an  artist  and  teacher  but,  you 
know,  never  go  beyond  the  logical  bounds.   But  I  don't  know  whether 
I've  violated  the  original  theme  that  you  presented. 

Teiser:   It's  all  pertinent. 

Adams:   Most  of  the  creative  photographers  in  the  world  never  knew  anything 
about  the  Zone  System  or  ever  used  anything  like  it.   They're 
entirely  empirical  in  approach.   And  you  learned  by  trial  and  error 
that  under  certain  conditions  you  exposed  a  certain  way.   Sometimes 
you  modified  development,  if  you  knew  what  you'd  done  and  could 
rectify  some  of  the  errors  in  the  darkroom — which  can  be  done  to  an 
amazing  degree.   So  we  can't  say  Edward  Weston  or  Stieglitz  or  Strand 
were  questionable  photographers  because  they  didn't  understand  sensi 
tometry!   But  from  the  point  of  view  of  efficiency,  getting  a 
negative  that  I  want,  I  can  run  rings  around  them,  and  I  do  not 
"bracket"  my  exposures. 

This  awful  word,  "bracket;"  in  color  pictures  you  bracket  one 
or  two  stops,  just  to  be  sure.   Well,  my  ego  won't  let  me  do  that. 
I  know  what  the  values  are;  I  know  where  they  fit  on  the  scale.   If 
I  have  to  take  pictures  of  an  important  subject — a  photograph  that  I 
know  is  valuable — I'll  take  several  duplicate  pictures,  but  they'll 
all  be  the  same  exposure. 

In  the  time  of  Group  f/64,  I  would  say  practically  everyone  was 
working  very  empirically.  I  don't  think  anybody  was  really  control 
ling  anything.  Weston  went  to  Mexico,  and  he  learned  the  lighting 


Adams:    situations,  and  he  probably  had  many  failures  in  the  beginning.   He 
probably  had  failures  in  the  field,  or  at  least  he  had  darkroom 
struggles.   I  did;  everybody  did. 

It  was  around  '36,  '38  that  [Beaumont]  Newhall  sent  me  a 
clipping  about  the  S.E.I,  meter.   I  was  laid  up  with  the  flu.   He 
sent  me  an  article,  a  clipping  on  it,  and  I  immediately  ordered  one 
by  telephone,  and  I  thought,  "This  is  it!"  At  that  time  we  were 
working  on  the  Zone  System,  and  the  S.E.I,  meter  was  the  thing  that 
really  pinpointed  it. 

I'd  like  to  say  that  any  intelligent  person,  in  an  hour's  time 
of  serious  discussion,  can  learn  the  whole  basis  of  the  Zone  System. 
It's  that  simple.   We  had  kids — students  in  the  California  School  of 
Fine  Arts  in  San  Francisco — in  six  weeks  time  they  could  photograph 
anything  I  could  think  up.   I  don't  say  they'd  make  a  great  picture, 
but  they  could  photograph — could  expose  correctly.   They  went  into 
reciprocity  failure  tests.   That's  another  domain.   It's  pretty 
complicated.   And  they  tried  many  different  developers  for  special 
effects.   And  at  the  end  of  six  weeks  they  had  a  very  fine  mechanical 
mastery.   Now  what  they  did  beyond  that,  that's  something  else. 

Teiser:   When  you  were  developing  the  Zone  System — in  the  mid-thirties,  was 

Adams:   Well,  no,  it  was  when  I  started  teaching  in  the  Art  Center  School, 
Los  Angeles. 

Teiser:  Early  forties? 

Adams:   Well,  late  thirties  and  forties.   I  don't  know  the  dates. 

Fred  Archer  and  I  worked  out  the  Zone  System,  and  we  got  the 
Weston  meter  representative  very  excited,  and  he  said,  "I'll 
mimeograph  you  a  lot  of  your  charts.   I  think  they're  very  important." 
We  had  several  charts — exposure  charts,  which  are  standard;  they 
haven't  changed  any.   And  then  we  had  density  charts — curve  reading 
charts — where  you  have  coordinates  on  which  to  plot  values  and  relate 
them  to  zones. 

One  time  I  remember  the  students,  everybody  working  along  hard 
and  everything  coming  out  wrong.   We  had  forgotten  to  include  Zone  V 
on  the  chart,  which  meant  a  factor  of  2  was  omitted!   Well,  [laughter] 
those  things  can  happen. 

I  found  out  that  serious  people  want  to  know  how  to  control,  and 
many  people  tie  themselves  in  a  knot  wanting  to  know  how  to  begin. 
The  ones  that  always  give  me  a  real  pain  in  the  neck  are  the  ones 
who  say,  "I  can  judge  the  light."   I  said,  "Well,  anywhere?"  "Oh  yes, 
anywhere.   I  never  need  the  meter.   I  don't  need  a  meter." 


Adams:   Well,  it's  physiologically  and  psychologically  impossible.   It's 

just  like  saying  I  can  judge  your  weight  by  looking  at  you.   I  can 
make  an  empirical  guess  by  looking  at  a  lot  of  other  people  like  you. 
But  it's  a  pompous  thing  to  say.   If  I  didn't  have  a  meter,  I  would 
have  to  bracket  exposures.   I  would  have  to  make  a  guess  and  then  go 
above  and  below  it  just  to  be  sure.   I  don't  really  know  light  values. 
I  know  in  Yosemite,  from  ten  in  the  morning  until  four  in  the 
afternoon,  the  shadows  in  the  trees  on  a  clear  day  are  so  much,  and 
I  know  where  granite  is  on  the  scale,  and  so  on.   But  in  New  England 
I  fell  flat  on  my  face — missed  all  the  light  there.   At  Santa  Fe  I 
again  fell  flat  on  my  face — misjudged  the  light.   Had  to  make  tests 
and  find  out  what  it  was  in  general.  Hawaii  was  the  same,  although 
by  that  time  I  knew  how  to  use  meters.   When  I  went  to  Hawaii  I 
wouldn't  trust  them.   I  mean,  I'd  say,  "Well,  this  can't  be."  And 
then  I'd  give  in  and  say,  "Oh,  I  must  trust  the  meter.   It  was  a 
good  meter,  and  I  was  just  applying  experience  as  well,  which  was 
all  right. 

Teiser:   The  quality  of  light  is  so  curious,  isn't  it?  We  were  just  discussing 
it  as  we  drove  along. 

Adams:   Well,  the  quality  of  light — in  the  early  days  when  0' Sullivan  and 

others  worked  in  the  Southwest  (in  fact,  anybody  at  that  time) — the 
films  accepted  only  blue  light.   You  don't  get  the  optimum  amount  of 
blue  until  about  nine-thirty  or  ten  o'clock  in  the  morning,  and  it 
begins  to  go  at  four  o'clock  and  the  light  becomes  redder  and  redder. 
With  blue-sensitive  plates  this  posed  a  real  problem. 

But,  I  don't  think  that  these  early  people  could  work  except 
between  ten  o'clock  and  two  or  three  o'clock  with  any  assurance. 
Then  when  the  orthochromatic  film  came  in,  which  accepted  green, 
you  had  more  leeway  working  with  longer  wavelengths.   With  ortho- 
chromatic  film,  you  could  still  get  into  trouble  with  late  or  early 

The  light  now  (6:15  p.m.  Pacific  daylight  savings  time) — 
it's  deficient  in  blue.   It's  all  right;  I  can  still  get  by  with 
panchromatic  (red-sensitive  film)  without  much  difficulty.   But  you 
wait  until  seven  o'clock.   In  the  old  days,  even  with  orthochromatic 
film  you'd  have  to  multiply  the  exposure  four  or  five  times.   But  you 
never  really  knew  how  red  it  was.   We  now  have  color  temperature  (°K) 
meters  to  inform  us  of  this  quality  of  light.   The  eye-mind  complex, 
being  an  absolute  miracle  of  construction,  adapts  to  differences  of 
color  temperature.   You're  not  aware  of  the  light  now  being  very 
much  of  red  quality. 

You  take  a  white  piece  of  paper  and  put  it  under  a  tungsten 
light — it  appears  white;  you  take  it  outside  in  the  sun  or  shade  and 
it  also  appears  white.   The  difference  would  be  apparent  when  you 
could  have  both  together.   The  best  example  I  ever  had  of  that  was 


Adams:   Mills  College  Art  Gallery.   I  went  over  there  with  Albert  Bender  to 
see  some  big  show,  and  this  whole  gallery  was  illuminated  with 
tungsten  light.   We  were  in  there,  and  everything  was  perfectly 
normal — white  labels,  white  shirts.   But  I  looked  out  the  door, 
looking  out  into  the  woods,  and  they  were  absolutely  turquoise.   We 
call  it  cyan  now.   I  mean,  here  was  a  bluish-green  gorgeous  thing, 
and  I  thought,  "What's  happening?"  And  I  went  out,  and  as  soon  as 
I'm  out,  it's  perfectly  normal — they're  green.   And  I  looked  back 
into  the  room,  and  it's  gold.   The  eye  has  adaptability  which  the 
film  does  not.   In  this  case  there  was  opportunity  for  direct 

Now,  I'd  be  conscious  of  a  direct  physical  reflection  of  blue 
light  from  the  sky,  or  red  light,  or  orange  in  your  dress,  or 
similar  things.   I  can  see  a  little  orange  light  on  your  face  from 
your  dress.   But  a  color  film  would  just  accentuate  that — the  shadow 
might  be  distractingly  orange. 

So  all  this  matter  of  visualization  relates  to  seeing  the  image 
you  want,  but  you  have  to  also  take  into  consideration  all  the 
idiosyncracies  of  the  light  itself,  and  the  meter  and  film  sensitivity. 
That's  why  photometers  are  important.   You  take  any  Weston  cell  or  a 
CdS  [cadmium  sulphide]  cell,  and  over  an  hour  or  so  from  now  its 
response  to  changing  daylight  differs.  Whereas  a  comparison  photometer 
is  something  else,  because  if  the  spot  looks  bluish,  you  just  put  in 
a  light  filter  that  can  control  its  response  (as  well  as  that  of  the 
film).   In  fact,  my  S.E.I,  photometer  is  a  practical  color  temperature 
meter  if  I  have  somebody  to  hold  a  compensating  filter  in  front  of  it 
while  I  am  using  it.   (Takes  two  hands  to  operate  it!) 

Suppose  I  wanted  to  copy  a  painting  in  a  gallery,  and  I  know 
the  light  is  tricky,  and  I  know  what's  going  to  happen,  and  I  have 
to  do  it  in  color  photography.   If  I  have  a  fifty-dollar  color  meter, 
which  will  give  me  readings  in  mirads,  etc.,  I  can  figure  out  what 
filters  to  use,  etc.   But  I  can  take  this  S.E.I,  meter  and  look  at 
the  gray  card,  and  if  the  spot  looks  yellow  I  may  use  a  variety  of 
number  eighty  series  filters — or  other  filters — held  in  front  of  the 
meter.   And  I  may  find  a  filter  which  makes  the  spot  neutral  and 
that's  the  filter  that  may  correct  the  film  for  color.   Because  I 
match  the  color  with  the  fixed  brightness  which  is  already  filtered, 
for  both  tungsten  or  daylight,  by  selecting  one  of  two  built-in 
filters  in  the  meter.   If  I'm  using  tungsten  balanced  film,  I  set  in 
the  tungsten  filter. 

So  there's  a  strange  dichotomy — the  principles  are  rather 
complex,  but  the  devices  we  have  to  control  them  are  fairly  simple, 
and  the  photographers  who  use  them  are,  90  percent  of  the  time, 
extremely  dumb,  because  they  don't  take  advantage  of  the  devices 
we've  got.  [Laughter]   And  then  when  they  make  a  mistake  of  exposure 


Adams:   or  development,  they  immediately  justify  it  by  making  some  further 

mistake  in  the  printing,  or  maybe  trying  to  pull  something  out  of  the 
hat  by  processing  experimentally.   And  sometimes,  of  course,  miracles 
happen.   You  know,  you  could  really  get  a  bad  negative  and  neverthe 
less  get  a  print  that  might  have  exciting  qualities. 

But  I'm  just  not  built  to  accept  what  is  called  the  accidental. 

Contemporary  Images 

Teiser:   I  was  looking  at  photographs  in  the  latest  U.S.  Camera  magazine  this 
morning  by  "coming"  young  photographers.   And  one  of  them  was  a 
picture  of  a  whole  bunch  of  people  standing  lined  up  in  a  field  and 
all  their  heads  were  blurred — their  bodies  weren't,  their  heads  were. 
I  didn't  take  time  to  read  what  was  so  good  about  it. 

Adams:   Well,  the  tragedy  there  is  sociological.   I  mean,  our  whole  society 

or  government,  or  whatever  we  have,  hasn't  given  anybody  any  challenge 
to  think.   Everything  is  mechanistic,  technical.   Thinking  is  all  done 
in  Route  128  outside  Cambridge,  or  up  here  in  Sunnyvale,  at  those  big 
research  centers.   Everything  is  carefully  thought  out,  but  the 
social  situation  is  very  unclear.   And  most  people  have  nothing  to 
say.   So  they're  inventing  symbols.   And  they'll  make  a  photograph, 
and  then  say,  "Well,  this  means  something  to  me."  Now,  perhaps  we 
can  say  of  this  lineup  (I  haven't  seen  the  picture),  "This  would  be 
an  unusual  approach  to  the  certainty  of  the  body  and  the  uncertainty 
of  the  mind."  You'd  be  surprised  what  is  read  into  these  things, 
into  picture  after  picture!   Or  a  picture  done  in  Rochester  of  George 
Eastman's  house  porch.   It's  just  a  square  picture  of  a  dark  column — 
frantically  bad. 

Jerry  Uelsmann  has  really  made  a  great  advance  because  he's 
combined  negatives  and  created  true  fantasies.   Personally,  I  find 
they  wear  thin  after  awhile,  because  the  whole  thing  is  a  bit  limited. 
And  then  you  begin  to  think  of  what  Dorothea  Lange  did  in  interpreting 
a  human  situation.   And  of  course  what  all  the  great  painters  of  the 
Renaissance  did  in  the  religious  area — you  have  to  remember  that 
there  were  no  other  themes  in  Western  art  at  that  time  but  the 
Christian  religion,  and  the  portraits  of  a  few  potentates  and  princes. 
The  art  that  was  done  outside  that  field  is  miniscule.   If  you're  an 
art  historian,  you  may  correct  me — there  may  be  some  done,  but  as  you 
move  on  later,  then  you  get  into  the  genre  of  the  Dutch  and  landscapes 
and  the  Barbizon  school.   But  art  always  fails  if  there  isn't  a  theme. 

That's  the  trouble  now  with  abstract  expressionism.  It  did  its 
job,  and  it  was  wonderful  when  it  did  it.  It  was  part  of  a  protest, 
and  I  think  art  now  is  at  the  very  lowest  level  it's  been.  And  that's 


Adams:   why  they're  painting  paintings  as  big  as  this  room.   They're  trying 
to  regain  some  grandeur  by  just  going  to  big  paintings.   But  how 
many  great  painters  can  you  think  of  today?  Well,  I  can  think  of 
[Georgia]  O'Keeffe,  who's  still  a  great  living  painter.   John  Marin, 
[Edward]  Hopper — they  are  dead.   (I'm  trying  to  think  of  modern 
painters.)   [Andrew]  Wyeth  I  think  is  a  glorified  Norman  Rockwell; 
I  simply  can't — I  think  he's  one  of  the  greatest  fakes  going.   Some 
of  his  paintings  are  absolute  copies  of  snapshots  I   The  reason  I  feel 
it  is  this:   In  his  large  book  there  is  a  graveyard  scene  in  the  back 
of  a  church;  a  good  photographer  with  any  sensibility  would  see  the 
formal  relationships  of  these  gravestones  with  the  church.   I  mean, 
he'd  make  some  effort  to  compose.   This  picture  shows  no  effort  to 
compose.   This  is  just  a  "click,"  and  there  it  is,  and  he  painted  it. 
And  that  bothers  me. 

But  think  of  [Charles  E.]  Burchfield's  picture,  the  "Hot 
September  Wind" — or  even  some  of  Wyet-h's,  like  that  "Wind  in  the 
Curtain;"  there  is  magic  in  them. 

But  who's  really  doing  anything  among  photographers?  Well, 
Bruce  Davidson  did  a  book  on  New  York  [East  100th  Street]  which  is 
very  important.   But  so  many  of  them  withdraw  from  any  human  project 
and  just  sit  back  and  ruminate — smoke  pot,  and  get  an  idea  that  the 
chair  is  important,  "I'll  take  a  picture  of  it.   Now,  you  undress, 
you  be  a  nude  and  you  sit  in  the  chair,  and  I'll  do  a  double 
exposure,  and  maybe  I'll  put  something  else  in  the  picture.   Now  I've 
done  something!"  [Laughter]   And  this  means  just  something,  little 
thought  of  human  communication.   But  you'll  see  many  of  these  double 
and  triple  exposures  most  of  which  are  terrible.   Some  of  them  can 
be  beautiful,  but  most  of  them  are  so  trite! 

There's  a  whole  mode  now  of  a  living  room  scene  with  the 
members  of  the  family  sitting  around  nude.   They're  mostly  extremely 
unattractive  people,  and  the  photograph  has  absolutely  no  distinction. 
[Laughter]   It's  completely  commonplace.   It  used  to  be  a  little 
daring.   Now  you  say,  "Oh,  I've  seen  that  before!" 

And — the  human  body,  in  90  percent  of  the  instances,  is  far  more 
aesthetic  with  clothes  than  without.  [Laughter] 

The  Nude 

Adams:   I  haven't  done  nudes  for  the  simple  reason  that  the  human  body  can 
be  extremely  beautiful,  but  I've  seen  very  few  photographic  nudes 
that  can  do  what  painting  does.   I've  always  had  that  in  the  back  of 
my  mind — "Why  should  I  photograph  a  nude?"  Now,  Stieglitz  and 
Weston  of  course  did  some  beautiful  ones.   [Interruption] 

[End  Tape  6,  Side  2] 


[Begin  Tape  7,  Side  1] 

Adams:   Now,  the  question  of  the  nude  has  always  been  very  important  in 

photography.   And  some  of  the  early  nudes  I  think  were  very  ghastly 
because  they  were  usually  done  in  settings  of  drapes  and  formal 
Victorian  rooms.   We're  talking  now  about  serious  nude  photography. 

I  can't  tell  you  about  English  photography.   I  think  Julia 
Margaret  Cameron  did  some — I  just  don't  know.   There  were  some 
painters:   [Thomas]  Eakins,  I  think,  did  some  nudes,  but  I've  always 
had  the  feeling  they  were  studies  for  paintings. 

Then  there  was  Ann  Brigman  who  did  nudes  creatively  related  to 
other  forms — tree  forms,  for  example — in  the  early  1900s. 

Then  there  was  Stieglitz  who  did  a  magnificent  series  of  nudes 
of  O'Keeffe  and  others.  Most  are  platinum  prints.   But  there  again, 
you  have  this  high  quality  of  taste.   These  were  beautiful  things. 
The  platinum  print  color  and  the  approach  always  gave  you  the 
feeling  of  living  flesh;  a  very  important  thing  in  photography.   The 
painterly  nude  or  drawing  is  always  just  what  it  is.   And  you  always — 
from  your  Goya  to  your  Rubens ,  and  on  to  Picasso — have  a  nude  quality 
which  is  something  apart  from  the  ordinary. 

In  photography,  there's  very,  very  few  that  have  ever  done  a 
nude  that  have  had  that  equivalent  of  the  painterly  quality.   I 
think  Steichen  did  a  couple  (I  don't  know  for  sure).   And  Weston's 
nudes  of  Tina  Modotti,  who  had  an  absolutely  beautiful  body — as 
people  say,  one  of  the  most  beautiful  bodies  extant — were  really 

And  then  he  attempted  nudes  of  various  subjects;  they're 
rather  scrawny.   They  became  very  strangely  stylized.   As  I  said  the 
other  day,  they  were  morguesque.   They  look  like  corpses  on  a  slab; 
they  have  no  life  in  them. 

Then  Charis  Weston — had  a  very  fine  body — very  smooth  and  tall. 
Weston  did  some  beautiful  things  of  her — in  sand  dunes  and  in  various 
poses.   I  think  some  of  those  were  quite  remarkable,  but  all  in  all, 
I  can't  remember  too  many.   I  remember  one  nude  that's  simply 
marvelous.   It's  by  Ruth  Bernhard.   And  it's  a  seated  figure,  and 
all  you  see  is  the  leg  and  the  knee.   And  it's  an  absolutely  monu 
mental  photograph — one  of  the  great  photographs. 

Teiser:   I  was  about  to  ask  you  about  her,  because  she's  one  who's  doing 
mostly  nudes  now,  isn't  she? 

Adams:    I  guess  so — she's  doing  a  lot  of  them.   She  is  a  marvelous  woman. 
But  I  haven't  kept  up  with  her  work.   But  this  one  nude  picture  I 
just  think  is  one  of  the  most  beautiful  things  in  photography.   And 
I  wish  there  were  more  like  it  I 


Adams:   I've  never  had  any  interest  in  nudes  because  I  never  liked  what  I 
saw.   I  mean,  I  felt  that  there  are  few  bodies  that  really  lend 
themselves  to  the  photographic  aesthetic — something  more  than 
members  of  a  nudist  camp.   Mortensen  got  young  girls  of  seventeen, 
eighteen;  but  he  ruined  their  quality  by,  as  we  say,  "oiling"  them 

Contrivance,  Arrangement,  and  Simulation 

Teiser:  You  were  mentioning  Wynn  Bullock.   And  he's  used  nude  figures — but 
not  for  themselves,  as  I  remember. 

Adams:   Well,  there's  some  kind  of  a  complex  situation  with  Wynn.  Mind  you, 
Wynn  is  one  of  the  great  people,  one  of  the  finest  men  I  know.   He's 
just  a  marvelous  human  being.   Lots  of  his  pictures  have  bothered  me 
because  they  are  mannered.   And  I'd  like  to  clarify  that.   Perhaps 
the  word  is  "contrived."  Now  "contrived"  has  got  a  bigger  meaning, 
in  the  sense  that  if  I'm  going  to  do  an  advertisement,  I  have  to 
contrive  the  situation. 

Say  I  have  a  model  and  a  dress.   I'm  thinking  of  Anton  Bruehl's 
studio  I  visited  years  ago  in  New  York.   He  was  doing  a  picture  for, 
I  think  it  was,  Lipton's  Tea.   And  the  model  was  a  quite  beautiful 
woman  in  a  taffeta  dress  in  a  very  elaborate  setup  with  a  silver  tea 
service.   And  she  was  just  sipping  this  tea.   And  of  course  the 
lighting  and  everything  was  just  beyond  belief.   It  was  entirely 
contrived,  and  yet  absolutely  sincere. 

Now,  contrivance  in  another  meaning  is  when  you  "monkey"  with 
things.   Such  contrivance  would  be  when  a  nature  photographer  takes 
along  a  bunch  of  azalea  branches  and  puts  it  in  a  place  for 
decorative  effect  where  they  couldn't  exist. 

Teiser:   Suppose  he  put  it  in  a  place  where  they  could  exist? 

Adams:   Well,  then  you  say — all  right.  Yes,  yes — it's  a  moral,  ethical 

problem,  and  that's  very  flexible.   You  brought  up  a  good  point.   If 
the  final  result  looked  completely  plausible  and  was  real — all  right. 
But  it's  a  very  delicate  thing;  very  hard  to  put  your  finger  on. 

The  arrangement  is  one  thing,  but  the  contrivance — I  know,  I'll 
just  say — one  of  Bullock's  has  an  old  building  and  back  of  a  window 
screen  is  a  nude.   Well,  for  me,  nothing  happens.   I  mean,  he's 
trying  to  tell  you  something  in  a  literary  sense,  or  he's  probably 
having  echoes  of  an  "art"  experience  (art  in  quotes).   It's  very  hard 
to  discuss — I  can't  quite  put  my  finger  on  it.   He  has  a  picture  of 
a  forest  in  Florida,  and  there's  a  little  baby  lying  down  in  the  ivy. 


Adams:   Why?  You  see,  I  ask  myself  why.   It's  a  beautiful  photograph. 

There's  one  that  he  has  of  a  little  child  sitting  by  a  stream  in  an 
enormous  forest,  and  that's  a  very  extraordinary  thing.   In  addition, 
it  is  something  that  could  happen.   He  may  have  contrived  it  or 
arranged  it  by  getting  her  there,  but  it  is  something  that  could 
occur.   But  the  little  baby  lying  down  in  the  ivy  is  a  questionable 
thing  for  me.   And  the  woman  behind  the  screen  is  also  questionable. 
The  woman  lying  on  the  bed  in  the  room  is  not.   That's  something 
that's  completely  plausible. 

You  have  no  idea  how  many  thousands  of  photographs  are  made  of 
nudes  lying  on  beds — with  babies,  without  babies.  [Laughter] 

Imogen  [Cunningham]  has  one  of  the  great  images — just  the  unmade 
bed.  There's  nothing  on  it  or  in  it,  but  it's  a  very  exciting  photo 

So  there's  a  very  delicate  definition  here  between  the  real  and — 
oh,  the  word  that  I'd  like  to  use  there  is  the  "simulated."  Now,  to 
simulate  something  is,  I  think,  perfectly  all  right,  because  you 
begin  with  reality  and  you're  simulating  it.   You're  trying  to  get  a 
re-creation,  a  simulation  of  this  thing.   And  therefore  it  has  neither 
good  nor  bad  connected  with  it.   Arrangement  is  arbitrary. 
Contrivance  has  either  good  or  evil  connected  with  it — contrivance 
is  probably  a  75c  word  for  "posing."  When  I  show  my  picture  of 
Clarence  Kennedy,  who  is  in  profile,  it  looks  like  the  most  obvious 
pose  in  the  world.   But  I  say:   I  did  not  pose  him.   This  is  the 
stance  he  takes  when  he's  listening  to  somebody.   In  this  case,  he 
was  listening  to  his  wife  telling  him  what  to  get  when  he  took  me 
downtown,  because  she  wanted  some  groceries.   He  was  just  listening, 
but  he  always  put  his  long  finger  behind  his  ear. 

Now,  superficially,  it  looks  as  if  I've  said,  "Come  on,  Clarence, 
let's  do  a  little  pose — you  know,  something  funny,"  but  it  wasn't  that 
way.  That's  the  way  he  was  when  I  made  the  picture. 

But  the  separation  between  the  real  and  the  contrived,  you  see, 
is  very  delicate. 

Once  Edward  and  Charis  [Weston]  and  I  were  on  a  trip.   Edward 
was  madly  photographing — we  were  near  Death  Valley.   And  Charis  saw 
an  old  boot.   So  she  closes  her  eyes  and  she  kicks  it.   Then  she 
goes  over  and  looks  at  the  boot  again.   Then  she  gives  it  another 
kick.  My  god,  it  then  looked  pretty  good.   She  said,  "Edward,  there's 
something  here."  He  looked  at  it,  and  he  made  a  beautiful  photograph. 
Now,  it  was  no  more  accidental  for  the  boot  to  be  there  than  where  it 
was  originally,  except  that  it  had  been  displaced  and  then  had  been 
selected  as  reality  and  called  attention  to  as  a  "found  object." 
And  I  don't  think  Edward  ever  knew  that  Charis  kicked  that  boot.   But 


Adams:   it  just  landed  right  in  some  sagebrush  and  some  rocks  and  looked 

perfectly  normal.   Before,  it  was  sort  of  cluttered;  it  was  difficult 
to  make  a  composition  of  it. 

Now,  is  that  right  or  wrong?   If  he_  had  kicked  the  boot,  then 
you'd  have  a  half-way  point.   If  he'd  taken  the  boot  up  and  put  it 
very  carefully  down,  and  sand  around  it,  and  carefully  arranged  it, 
then  you  would  have  contrivance.   So  you  see,  you  have  an  ethical 
point  to  ponder  on. 

On  the  other  hand,  suppose  I  have  a  perfectly  beautiful 
composition  of  rocks  and  there's  a  beer  can  in  it.   I  think  I'm 
privileged  to  remove  the  beer  can.  But  some  purists  say,  no,  I 
shouldn't  even  do  that.   In  other  words,  I'm  manipulating;  it's  no 
longer  a  true  found  object. 

Teiser:   Those  are  people  who  were  born  before  Kleenex. 

Adams:   Yes.   Perhaps  you  have  been  down  in  the  desert,  like  Barstow,  Red 
Lake,  some  place,  you  know  where  the  garbage  dump  is  just  an  open 
dump,  and  the  desert  wind  had  taken  everything  on  the  ground  and 
blown  it  over  miles  of  desert  and  every  bush  had  Kleenex  and  papers  . 
and  things  hanging  on  it!   This  in  itself  is  an  extraordinary 
phenomenon,  and  if  somebody  from  another  planet  had  landed  there,  he 
would  have  found  it  of  the  most  extraordinary  significance.   What  is 
this  substance  that's  on  the  bushes?  I  regret  that  I  didn't  record 
that  as  part  of  the  desert  phenomena. 

I  do  have  a  [photograph  of  a]  garbage  dump  at  Manzanar,  though, 
that  I  never  thought  of  using,  but  I  could  now. 

Meaning,  Shape,  and  Form 

Adams:   My  picture  of  the  statue  at  the  Long  Beach  cemetery,  with  the  oil 
derricks  in  the  distance,  was  done  as  a  quasi-surrealistic  thing. 
I  just  saw  the  improbability  of  this  weeping  angel  and  the  oil 
derricks.   It  had  no  definite  meaning;  this  is  just  a  juxtaposition 
of  opposites.   Now,  with  the  present  pollution  situation,  it  takes 
on  another  meaning! I   People  read  into  that  all  kinds  of  things.   I'm 
even  thinking  of  putting  it  in  my  Portfolio  Seven  just  for  that 
example.   It  was  done  for  one  reason  but  is  "read"  today  for  another. 
I'm  proud  of  the  photograph.   But  the  meaning  of  it  to  me  when  I  did 
it  was  just  the  sudden  shock  of  the  juxtaposition  of  the  statue 
against  the  oil  derricks,  without  any  thought  at  all  of  pollution  or 
anything  else.   And  now  when  you  see  it,  you  may  entertain  a  totally 
different  meaning.   Now  if  you  saw  the  Angel  of  Death  in  front  of  oil 


Adams:   wells,  you'd  immediately  think  of  environmental  disasters,  and  so  on. 
And  I'd  like  to  make  that  point  clear;  it  shows  how  expressions  and 
meanings  can  be  manipulated  over  time. 

I'm  a  heathen,  and  I  look  at  many  of  the  old  master  paintings 
and  I  get  dismally  tired  of  the  Annunciations  and  the  Resurrections 
and  such  things.   But  then  you  look  at  them  abstractly — what  do  they 
do?  Of  course,  they're  all  doing  about  the  same  thing,  but  a  few  of 
them  always  stood  apart.   A  few  of  them  were,  I  think,  very  inconse 
quential,  but  have  become  famous  because  of  their  period  and 
associations.   But  to  me,  with  my  admittedly  meager  experience,  the 
most  magnificent  religious  expression  of  the  theme  is  at  the  little 
santuario  of  Chimayo,  New  Mexico.   The  primitive  Penitente  paintings 
there  are  so  absolutely  beautiful  that  I'd  much  rather  look  at  them 
than  any  Raphael  or  any  conventional  painting.   Now,  there  are 
probably  all  kinds  of  things  like  that  all  over  Europe,  by  the 
million,  but  these  really  hit  me. 

The  Birth  of  Venus  struck  me  as  being  absolutely  tremendous, 
and  the  El  Greco  paintings.   I  get  very  mad  when  people  tell  me 
El  Greco  painted  that  way  because  he  had  an  astigmatism.   I  think  he 
was  a  stylist;  I  think  he  just  did  this  thing  of  certain  elongations 
for  emotional  reasons. 

We're  getting  very  far  from  photography,  and  I'm  getting  into  a 
domain  that  I'm  really  no  authority  in. 

Teiser:  Well,  as  it  relates  to  your  photography,  which  of  course  it  does — 

Adams :   Getting  back  to  the  idea  of  the  difference  between  shape  and  form, 
the  external  world  is  nothing  but  a  chaotic  infinity  of  shapes,  and 
the  photographer's  problem  is  to  isolate  the  shapes,  both  for 
meaning  and  for  their  inherent  potentials  to  produce  form  within  the 
format  of  the  image.   And  I've  had  terrific  semantic  arguments; 
people  talk  about  natural  forms,  and  I'd  say,  "Form  is  a  product  of 
man's  mind  and  concepts,  and  shape  is  a  phenomenon  of  nature."  And 
the  function  of  the  artist  is  to  develop  configurations  out  of  chaos, 
and  especially  so  the  photographer.   You  see,  a  painter  can  have 
myriad  experiences  and  draw  all  these  things  beautifully  together, 
without  regard  for  their  real  time  or  place,  but  the  photographer's 
got  that  camera  and  lens  and  that  one  film,  and  the  maximum  has  to 
happen  when  that  shutter  clicks. 


Time  and  Reevaluation 

Adams:    I  think  maybe  what  happened  after  f/64  is  interesting  and  deserves 
a  little  more  study.   We  all  kept  on.   Imogen  [Cunningham],  as  you 
know,  is  something  in  her  own.   She's  always  been,  I  guess,  one  of 
the  most  diverse  people.   The  others  somewhat  faded  from  the  scene. 
Willard  [Van  Dyke]  went  into  movies.   Of  course,  Edward  Weston  kept 
on,  there's  no  question  of  that,  and  Brett  is  doing  extremely  well. 
Henry  Swift  and  John  Paul  Edwards  faded  out  of  the  picture. 

Perhaps,  for  maybe  a  decade,  the  f/64  wasn't  too  important. 
It  had  done  its  job;  it  settled,  and  now  it's  coming  back.   It's 
like  what  happens  with  any  great  artist.   You  take  Edward  Weston. 
He  died  and  there's  a  slump;  now  he's  coming  back  ferociously  on 
the  preciousness  of  his  remaining  work.  And  I  can  guarantee  that 
there  will  probably  be  quite  a  long  period  wherein  he  becomes  a 
legendary  figure,  and  then  people  will  begin  to  discover  him  as 
dementi  and  Mendelssohn  did  Bach,  and  there  will  be  a  powerful 
revival.   I  think  that  will  probably  happen  with  every  fine 
photographer  and  artist.   After  their  death  you'll  have  a  kind  of 
surge  of  evaluation — get  what  you  can  and  get  what's  left.   And 
then  there'll  be  quite  a  long  period,  maybe  a  whole  generation, 
where  his  work  may  not  have  much  meaning.   And  then  stylistically, 
it  will  reassert  itself:   just  look  at  the  history  of  Bach. 

You  remember  that  Beethoven  had  a  piano  that  didn't  permit  bass 
octaves.   I  know;  I  played  on  one  of  the  pianos — an  1812  instrument, 
an  instrument  that  he  used,  or  a  close  serial  number  to  it.   It  was 
owned  by  the  people  that  were  formerly  very  important  in  Williams- 
burg,  and  she  was  a  fine  pianist  and  musicologist.   And  this  piano 
was  in  mint  condition;  you'd  play  on  it  and  you'd  hear  it  was 
beautiful.   But,  compared  to  what  I've  got  over  there — a  1924  Mason 
and  Hamlin  grand  piano — there  was  little  comparison.   This  was  a 
time  when  I  could  still  play,  so  I  remember.   There  wasn't  space  for 
many  of  the  octaves  placed  in  later  editions  of  his  piano  music. 

So  there  was  a  development  with  the  big  piano  and  its  modern 
keyboard.   And  then  Beethoven  was  reedited  to  include  the  octaves. 


Teiser:   It's  almost  as  if  a  new  dimension  was  found  in  photography  which 
could  put  a  negative  onto  a  different  plane  than  it  is  now. 

Adams:   Well,  don't  think  that  you're  just  making  conjectural  remarks;  the 
thing  is  possibly  quite  true.   Now  we  have  holography.   And  this  is 
a  very  complicated  thing,  and  I  don't  think  I  can  describe  it. 
Holography  gives  three-dimensional  effects.   Using  it,  you  might 
achieve  another  interpretation  entirely  from  any  negative  that  I 
have  now. 


Teiser:   That's  a  fascinating  possibility. 

Adams:   That  is  a  reality.   It  is  expensive  and  complex.   The  first  color 
images  were  made  many,  many  years  before  we  ever  had  a  color  print 
or  transparency,  but  they  were  seen  by  iridescence.  And  the  silver 
grain  responded  at  different  wavelengths  and  therefore  would  respond 
to  a  different  columnated  light  coming  upon  it,  and  you  would  get  a 
sense  of  color.   So  you  see,  miracles  have  always  been  with  us. 

Now,  holography  is  something  totally  different.   Some  day  that 
may  be  very  important;  it  creates  the  illusion  of  the  three- 
dimensional  image.   But  still  it's  kind  of  crude  and  extremely 
complicated  and  extremely  cumbersome,  using  laser  beams.   But  there 
is  always  this  possibility  of  making  an  integrated  analysis  of  the 
rotation  of  the  silver  grains.   It  would  be  a  random  thing,  and 
concern  billions  of  grains  practically  in  every  place,  but  you  might 
get  a  feeling  of  a  dimensional  quality.   You  might  even  get  a  feeling 
of  color.   But  you  wouldn't  do  it  with  one  grain;  you'd  do  it  with  a 
million,  a  billion,  a  trillion  grains,  you  see.   That's  where  the 
computer  would  come  in. 

Teiser:   Sounds  like  a  time  machine. 

Adams:   Yes.   In  fact,  I  just  read  an  article  in  Science  today  of  the 

reversible  time.   A  theory  has  been  proven  in  the  domain  of  sub 
atomic  particles;  they  move  forward  and  backward  in  time.   This  is 
mathematical  and  extremely  complex.   Nothing  to  do  with  ordinary 

The  Photo  League  and  Politics 

Adams:   I  think  we  discussed  the  Photo  League,  didn't  we? 
Teiser:   Not  at  any  length.* 

Adams:   Well,  that's  important.  I  think  we  could  end  with  that  tonight. 

It  was  primarily  a  film  [motion  picture]  group  before  the  war,  and 

it  was  quite  important.  It  was  always  avant-garde,  socially  and 

Shortly  after  the  war,  it  became  very  active  with  still 
photography.   It  was  dedicated  to  the  contemporary  scene.   There 
were  some  very  fine  photographers  in  it — Barbara  Morgan,  Beaumont 

*See  p.  49  and  other  references  as  indexed. 


Adams:   and  Nancy  Newhall,  myself,  Strand.   Strand  was  one  of  the  leaders. 
There  were  some  shows  in  the  East,  and  I  had  one  show  at  the  San 
Francisco  Fair  [Golden  Gate  International  Exposition]  in  1940. 

At  any  event ,  in  the  late  1940s  I  received  a  call  from  Barbara 
Morgan  who  said,  "I  think  you  ought  to  know  what's  happened.   The 
Commies  have  taken  over  the  Photo  League's  board  of  directors."  She 
said,  "I  don't  like  it,  because  I  joined  it  as  a  photographer,  not 
as  a  politician."  You  know,  so  many  organizations  had  gone  that  way. 
You'd  join  a  photographic  society  and  find  out  it's  something  in 
support  of  the  Communist  party.   In  this  case,  then,  they  got  a 
photographer  in  as  prime  director  of  education  who  was  a  well-known 
member  of  the  party.   And  Barbara  said,  "I'm  getting  out,  and  I  don't 
want  anything  to  do  with  this;  I'm  liberal,  but  I  don't  want  to  be 
identified  with  the  Communist  party."  And  I  said,  "Neither  do  I." 

So  I  called  up  my  lawyer  and  asked,  "What  do  we  do?  I  have  had 
no  direct  experience,  but  I'm  warned  that  there's  a  political  take 
over  in  action."  He  said,  "Well,  write  them  a  letter  requesting 
information  on  the  trend.   Are  they  to  continue  as  a  photographic 
institution  or  grow  into  a  political  institution?"  And,  with  the 
temper  of  the  times,  he  advised  me  to  send  a  copy  to  the  FBI,  which 
I  did. 

I  got  no  response  at  all,  in  fact,  more  adverse  reports,  so  I 
resigned.   I  sent  a  letter  saying,  "Not  having  had  a  satisfactory 
answer  to  my  question,  I  feel  that  I  really  shouldn't  continue  as  a 
member.   So  I  respectfully  submit  my  resignation."  I  sent  a  copy 
also  to  the  FBI.   And  it  was  the  most  fortunate  thing  I  ever  did, 
because  I  was  cleared  later  from  being  associated  with  a  definitely 
Red-oriented  group. 

Now,  I'd  like  to  make  it  clear:   if  it  were  a  Republican- 
oriented  or  a  Democratic-oriented  or  Red-oriented  organization,  it 
would  have  the  same  effect.   I  mean,  I  think  the  Communist  party  has 
an  equal  right  to  exist  along  with  the  Nixon  party.   But  I  don't  want 
to  be  associated  with  those  political  aspects.   And  when  I  came  in 
for  a  final  clearance,  which  was  through  the  navy  and  Polaroid  to  do 
some  secret  stuff,  the  FBI  told  me  that  the  copies  of  these  letters 
they  held  are  what  made  clearance  possible.   They  said,  "You  clearly 
stated  your  point  of  view." 

Several  very  fine  photographers — a  couple  of  them  got  jobs  with 
the  Department  of  Education  and  went  over  to  Europe  to  photograph 
and  were  turned  back  at  the  docks  because  they  were  members  of  the 
Photo  League.   Of  course,  this  was  part  of  the  McCarthy  catastrophe, 
and  we  had  to  fight  that.   They  were  the  most  innocent  people  in  the 
world;  they  didn't  know  what  was  going  on  politically.   They  just 
wanted  to  practice  and  help  the  arts. 


Teiser:   This  was  a  New  York  based  organization,  was  it? 

Adams:   Yes. 

Teiser:  Who  started  it? 

Adams:   Walter  Rosenblum,  Paul  Strand--!  don't  know  whether  Walker  Evans 
was  in  it  or  not;  I  doubt  it.   It  was  a  considerable  group  of  New 
York  photographers,  which  was  a  special  breed.   They're  mostly  in 
journalism.   I  don't  want  to  be  quoted  in  the  sense  of  accusing 
people  by  association.   But,  it  was  quite  a  sizable  group.   Berenice 
Abbott  I  think  was  in  it.   I  got  in  it,  and  Willard  Van  Dyke — people 
who  were  interested  in  joining  organizations  that  would  do  good,  like 
the  Group  f/64. 

Harroun:  It  didn't  start  out  political? 

Adams:   Oh,  no,  it  started  out  as  a — well,  it  was  more  or  less  dedicated  to 
the  American  scene,  because  you  don't  have  much  else  in  New  York. 
The  American  situation,  the  social  scene,  I  should  say.   And  you 
realize  people  who  are  living  in  New  York  and  places  don't  know  much 
else.   If  they  see  a  tree,  it's  a  Central  Park  phenomenon.  I  mean, 
they  live  in  the  ghetto,  they  live  in  the  center  of  the  city;  their 
whole  life  is  people.   Helen  Leavitt  was  another  one — did  marvelous 
photographs  of  people,  but  the  orientation  is  totally  different 
from  out  here. 

It  was  an  organization  that  commanded  considerable  respect  and 
was  the  only  one  of  its  kind  in  the  country.  But  of  course  we 
cannot  forget  that  hideous  McCarthy  period,  when  everybody  was 
accused  of  everything.   George  Marshall  was  in  the  Civil  Liberties 
Congress,  which  was  very  definitely  a  Commie  organization,  and  he  was 
too  naive  to  realize  that.   He  was  a  man  of  very  considerable  means, 
and  they  got  him  in.   This  group  was  brought  up  before  the  Senate, 
and  it  was  pretty  grim,  because  most  of  the  leading  communists  in  the 
country  were  in  it,  and  George  was  the  treasurer.   (George  was  the 
brother  of  Robert  Marshall  who  founded  the  Wilderness  Society — very 
fine  and  wealthy  people.)   And  the  Senators  demanded  that  he  turn 
over  the  books.   And  he  said,  "I  cannot  do  this  without  the  approval 
of  my  board  of  directors  as  a  matter  of  principle." 

"You  refuse  to  do  that?" 

Well,  he  was  convicted  of  contempt  of  the  Senate  and  was 
sentenced  to  prison.   Went  to  the  Philadelphia  Farm  I  think  it  was 
for  six  months.   He  really  went  through  hell.   An  extraordinarily 
fine  man.   He  was  a  man  of  great  principle.   The  Senate  had  really 


Adams:   no  jurisdiction.   This  is  a  matter  which  I  do  not  believe  has  been 
cleared  yet  in  law.   But  they  had  no  right  to  demand  that  he_  submit 
the  books.   He  said,  "If  my  board  orders  me  to  do  so.  You  order  the 
board,  and  they'll  order  me;  otherwise  I  stand  in  contempt,  gentle 
men."  It  was  really  quite  a  moving  situation,  and  it  was  absolutely 
undemocratic  and  absolutely  wrong. 

And  the  photographers — we've  had  a  lot  of  troubles!   Strand 
had  to  move  to  France  or  he  would  have  been  in  jail,  because  he  was 
definitely  a  communist.   Having  money,  you  know,  he  could  do  what  he 
wanted.   He  was  much  luckier  than  others. 

You're  always  confronted  with  sacrificing  yourself  on  the  alter 
of  political  belief  or  being  rational  and  doing  what  you  have  to  do 
as  an  artist,  irrespective  of  Nixon,  or  McCarthy,  or  Roosevelt  or 


I'm  very  unhappy  about  the  contemporary  situation,  because  I 
think  if  something  goes  haywire,  which  it  very  well  could,  we'll 
come  under  a  very  strict  surveillance. 

Jack  Anderson's  comment  on  the  FBI  when  this  new  man,  [Patrick] 
Gray  (who  apparently  is  a  real  dumb  jerk),  took  over:   "We  have  no 
personal  files."  And  Anderson  had  photostatic  copies  of  the 
personal  files.   Now,  take  the  young  photographer — what  is  he  going 
to  do  in  the  world?   Is  he  going  to  go  out  and  photograph  rocks  and 
trees,  or  is  he  going  to  really  pitch  in  and  do  something  for 
society?   I  would  admire  the  one  who  would  pitch  in  and  do  something 
in  the  sociological  sense,  providing  he  makes  moving  photographs. 

I  tell  you,  a  typical  thing  was  that  [Ralph]  Crane,  I  think  he 
was,  of  Life — a  whole  lot  of  pictures  were  made  of  troups  departing 
for  the  war.   This  was  back  in  the  early  days.   And  oh,  they  had 
fanfares  and  they  had  soldiers  and  all  this  stuff.   And  Crane  made 
a  picture  of  a  wife  and  daughter  in  the  back  of  the  car — they  had 
just  taken  their  husband  and  father  to  the  embarcation  center. 

That  was  one  of  the  most  incredible  photographs  I've  ever  seen — 
I  mean,  just  the  expressions  on  these  people.   And  it  was  a  beautiful 
photograph.   It  was  beautiful  tonally  and  compositionally.   And  I've 
been  trying  to  find  that,  and  no  one  knows  anything  about  it;  Life 
can't  find  it,  and  so  on. 

But  there  was  the  whole  creative  tragedy  of  the  war,  just  in 
this  particular  photograph  of  these  two  women,  you  see.   And  all  the 
other  patriotic  bombast  was — if  you  read  into  it  with  a  literary 
sense,  you  thought,  "Well  yes,  they're  going  over  to  be  shot  up;  too 
bad."  That  was  bad.   But  the  whole  thing  was  summed  up  in  this 
extremely  perceptive  photograph.   And  in  that  way  the  perceptive  and 


Adams:   beautifully  controlled  and  aesthetically  managed  image  has  the 

greatest  power.   And  that's  where  Dorothea  Lange  stands  head  and 
shoulders  above  all  the  rest  of  her  colleagues,  because  she  injected 
that  quality  of  art  and  sensitivity. 

Working  with  Dorothea  Lange 

Teiser :   I  remember  her  photograph  of  shipyard  people  had  that  same  something. 

Adams:   It's  not  known  who  did  many  of  those  photographs — she  and  I  worked  on 
that  together.   The  one  of  the  people  coming  down,  the  whole  crowd — 
that  was  mine  ["Shipyard  Construction  Workers,  Richmond,  California," 

Teiser:   Oh,  it  was.' 

Adams:   And  the  picture  of  the  Negress  sitting  in  front  of  the  trailer  camp 
housing  in  the  mud — that  was  mine.   And  the  trailer  camp  children 
also  were  mine. 

And  then,  helped  by  her  son,  she  got  some  pictures  in  a  bar, 
which  I  wish  I'd  done.   But  that  doesn't  mean  much  difference.   We' 
did  it  as  a  joint  thing,  like  we  did  the  story  on  the  Mormons.   What 
was  Dorothea's  idea,  what  was  my  idea,  whether  she  or  I  did  the 
photograph — what  difference  does  it  make?  Those  really  were  joint 
projects,  and  I  imagine  it  was  a  fifty-fifty  result.*  It  was  a 
privilege  to  work  with  her,  but  it  was  difficult.   Even  at  that  time 
she  wasn't  well,  and  she'd  overdo  and  she'd  have  medical  problems. 

I  don't  regret  my  life  at  all.   It's  been  spectacular  in  many 
ways.   And  you  know,  working  with  people  is  rewarding.   Some  day  I'll 
give  you  a  story  of  my  invasion  of  the  South  with  telephone  advertising 
people.   That  would  be  another  story. 

Teiser:  Well,  I'll  write  it  down  to  bring  up  later. 
Adams:   Some  of  it,  if  I  told  the  truth,  you  couldn't  even  print. 
[Interruption — visitor  enters] 

Adams:   Ah,  this  is  Dick  Julian,  one  of  my  prize  students,  a  very  fine 

photographer,  a  very  fine  electronics  engineer.   He's  made  me  two 

*See  also  other  references  to  Dorothea  Lange  as  indexed. 


Adams:   gadgets,  timers,  which  put  me  in  this  enviable  world  of 

technological  superiority!   And  he's  a  fine  photographer,  which  is 
the  most  important  thing.   I'd  like  to  show  you  his  portfolio. 

[End  Tape  7,  Side  1] 

Early  Visits  to  New  Mexico 

[Interview  VI  —  26  May  1972] 
[Begin  Tape  7,  Side  2] 

[Virginia  Adams  participated  in  this  interview] 

Teiser:   I  can  start  today  by  reading  you  some  dates  that  I  have  here  that 

maybe  will  recall  to  you  your  early  trips  to  New  Mexico.   These  are 
mostly  from  Mrs.  Newhall's  book. 

Adams :  Yes . 

Teiser:  Some  time  in  1927 — 

Adams:  That's  the  date  I  went. 

Teiser:  — you  went  first  to  Santa  Fe  with  Albert  Bender. 

Then  in  1928  you  went  twice,  and  then  in  1929  in  the  spring 
you  and  Mrs.  Adams  went,  and  then  I  don't  know — 

Adams:   Well,  she  [Mrs.  Newhall]  didn't  get  all  those  details  in  those  days, 
because  it  was  pretty  complex.   But  I  can  start  it  off  by  saying 
that  Bertha  Damon,  who  was  then  Bertha  Pope,  was  quite  a  literary 
figure.   You  remember,  she's  written  really  delightfully.   I  think 
her  first  book  was  A  Sense  of  Humus,  which  was  on  gardening.   It  was 
just  marvelous.   And  the  other  one  was  Grandma  Called  It  Carnal. 
That  was  marvelous  too.   She's  a  great  stylist.   And  she  was  a 
great  friend  of  Witter  Bynner's. 

So  Albert  Bender  said,  "Let's  us  go  down  in  the  old  bus  and  see 
Bynner  and  the  other  people  down  there."  Bertha  and  Albert  and  I 
drove  down  in  his  Buick,  which  I  think  was  a  1926  coach — terribly 
good  automobile,  probably  still  running.   And  in  those  days  the 
roads  were  simply  ghastly.   The  highway  over  to  Tehachapi,  that 
wasn't  so  bad,  but  when  you  got  over  to  Mojave — from  Mojave  on  east 
it  was  all  "washboard" — just  dreadful  road.   Dust.   You  know  what  a 
washboard  road  is? 

V.  Adams:   That  was  the  time  we  took  Ella  Young? 


Adams:     No,  I'm  speaking  of  going  there  first  with  Bertha.   April  1927 — 
that  was  the  first  trip. 

V.  Adams:   I  don't  remember. 

Adams:     [To  Mrs.  Adams]  She  got  that  out  of  Nancy's  book. 

So  we  arrived  in  Santa  Fe  and  went  to  the  De  Vargas  Hotel. 
This  is  very  poignant — I  met  Bynner  for  the  first  time  in  the  men's 

V.  Adams:   You  mean  that's  where  you  were  to  meet?  [Laughter] 

Adams:     We  arrived  in  a  state.   It  was  snowing  and  a  dust  storm,  so  the 

snow  was  literally  gray.   I've  never  seen  anything  like  it  since. 

V.  Adams:   What  time  of  year? 

Adams:     April.   So  then  Witter  said,  "Well,  you're  all  coming  to  dinner," 
and  he  gave  us  the  address  but  he  didn't  give  us  directions. 

Bertha  was  sure  it  was  the  north  side  of  the  Santa  Fe  River. 
I  didn't  know.   So  we  went  up  there  and  got  lost  and  kept  calling 
on  people,  and  these  people  only  spoke  Spanish,  you  know — it  was 
a  terrible  time.   Finally  we  got  back  to  the  hotel,  and  Bynner 
said  on  the  phone,  "I  didn't  tell  you.   We're  first  meeting  at  a 
party  on  Canyon  Road.   So  you  go  there." 

So  we  went  there  and  there  was  a  real  wild  drinking  party, 
and  a  lot  of  young  people  had  passed  out — 

V.  Adams:   That  was  quite  a  beginning.  [Laughter] 

Adams:     In  those  days  Santa  Fe  was  really  something — very  exotic. 

And  then  we  got  to  Bynner's  place  about  nine  o'clock,  and 
there  was  more  partying,  and  then  about  ten  o'clock  he  had  this 
dinner.   Well,  poor  Albert  wasn't  used  to  that  kind  of  stuff  at 
all.   Bertha  was,  but  she  was  furious.   The  only  reason  I  took  it, 
I  guess,  was  that  I  was  young. 

So  we  had  several  riotous  days,  and  we  met  people — Mary 
Austin,  Haniel  Long,  Arthur  Davidson  Ficke,  Shuster — 

V.  Adams:  Will. 

Adams:     Will  Shuster,  and  the  Cassidys,  Gerald  and  Ina  Sizer  Cassidy,  and 
quite  a  few  others  that  were  writers  and  artists  and  friends  of 
Bynner  and  Bertha. 

And  we  toured  around  a  bit.   We  went  to  Taos ,  but  we  didn't 
meet  Mabel  [Dodge  Luhan] . 


Teiser : 
Adams : 

V.  Adams; 
Adams : 

V .  Ad  ams  ; 
Adams : 
V .  Adams : 
Adams : 
V.  Adams; 

Adams : 

Adams : 
Adams : 

You  did  not? 

No,  not  that  time, 
came  home. 

She  was  in  Europe  or  something.   And  then  we 

Didn't  you  have  a  trip  across  the  desert,  sort  of  just  across  the 
country  somewhere,  in  Albert's  car? 

Oh  yes,  that's  interesting.   We  went  to  Grand  Canyon  on  the  way. 
And  we  left  Flagstaff,  and  the  road  was  terrible.   So  we  stopped 
some  shepherd  by  the  road,  and  I  said,  "Can  I  cut  across  here?" 
He  says,  "Oh,  go  right  across."  How  we  ever  did  it  I  don't  know, 
but  we  got  that  car  across  about  eight,  ten  miles  of  Arizona 
desert  without  any  mishaps.   It  was  a  foolhardy  thing  to  do — just 
absolutely  ridiculous.   But  I  didn't  see  that  it  was  much  worse 
than  the  road.   We  cleared  everything.  Had  a  little  trouble 
getting  on  the  road  on  the  South  Rim,  though.   We  had  to  navigate 
for  a  mile  or  two  to  find  a  place  where  we  could  get  down  the  bank, 
see.   And  I  had  to  get  out  and  move  some  logs,  but  we  made  it. 
[Laughter]   Then  we  went  to  Grand  Canyon. 

Who  else  was  there  with  you? 

Friend  of  Bertha's. 

I  can't  even  think  who  it  is. 

I  can't  even  remember  the  name.   I  think  Albert  was  very  jealous — 

He  thought  that  he  should  have  the  center  of  attention,  which  he 
should  have. 

It  was  very  funny — one  morning  I  left  very  early  to  get  a  picture, 
and  I  looked  down  from  (I  forget  which  point  it  was — near  the  big 
hotel,  I  guess),  and  I  saw  this  little  figure  walking  around  in 
circles  out  on  this  sort  of  an  esplanade,  quite  a  way  down.   It 
was  Albert.   He  was  pacing  in  a  circle.   He  was  depressed  because 
he  thought  that  this  guy  wasn't  worthy  of  Bertha.   I  don't  know 
how  confidential  to  be  about  this,  but  it  was  very  funny. 

Anyway,  we  got  home  safely, 
that  happened. 

How  long  a  trip  was  it? 
Two  weeks . 

Did  you  do  all  the  driving? 
Yes.   Albert  didn't  drive. 

I  can't  think  of  anything  else 


V.  Adams:   The  bounding  Buick.   It  bounded  that  time,  for  sure. 

Adams:     Bertha  didn't  like  driving.   I  could  take  it  hour  after  hour,  but 
those  washboard  roads  were  unbelievable. 

Teiser:    Do  you  remember  what  your  first  impression  of  Mary  Austin  was? 

Adams:     I  met  her  at  a  party.   She  was  rather  grim,  very  nice,  to  me  at 
least — didn't  like  Bertha. 

V.  Adams:   She  didn't  really  like  most  women,  especially  here  was  Bertha, 
who  had  done  some  writing.   She  wanted  to  be  at  the  center. 

Adams:     At  any  event,  she  saw  some  of  my  pictures,  which  I'd  taken  down 

Then  the  next  trip  is  when  we-  met  the  Applegates,  Frank  Apple- 
gate  and  his  wife  [Alta],  and  Mary  Austin  again. 

V.  Adams:   Was  that  the  time  we  went  together,  or  were  you  there  another  time 
after  that?  You  went  to  New  York  on  the  train  and  stopped  off. 

Adams:     That's  right.   Several  trips  there,  we  went  by  train. 

V.  Adams:   Yes,  because  once  was  just  before  Christmas,  and  you  took  some 
pictures  of  the  snow  on  the  adobe  house. 

Adams:     Bynner's  home. 

Teiser:    That  must  have  been  1928.   According  to  Mrs.  Newhall's  book,  you 
were  there  in  April  and  then  in  November  1928. 

V.  Adams:   Well,  that  could  be.   Because,  you  know,  we  got  married  in  January 
1928,  but  I  had  invited  people  to  Yosemite.   I  had  a  household 
there  to  work  on.   And  you  were  going  east.   And  we  didn't  go 
until  the  spring  of  '29,  when  we  went  with — 

Adams:     Yes,  Ella  Young. 

Well,  there  were  several  trips,  and  at  that  time  we  arranged 
to  do  the  Taos  book,  and  a  lot  of  pictures  for  the  Spanish-Colonial 
Art  Society. 

V.  Adams:   Which  Mary  Austin  was  very  active  in. 

Adams:     And,  of  course,  I  was  staying  with  Bynner  in  that  beautiful  house. 
But  Bynner  would  party  until  one  in  the  morning,  and  then  he'd 
work  with  his  secretary. 

V.  Adams:   He  was  stimulated,  I  guess. 


Adams:     The  party  would  go  until  four  or  five,  and  he  wouldn't  get  up 

until  two  the  next  day,  but  I'd  have  to  get  up  around  dawn  to  get 

V.  Adams:   He  [Bynner]  would  go  out  and  work  in  the  early  morning  in  his 
garden,  then  retire.   He  often  did  it  after  work  with  his 
secretary,  at  seven  and  eight.   Then  he'd  go  to  bed. 

V.  Adams:   Yes.   His  day  was  over — I  mean,  night  was  over. 

Adams:     He'd  get  up  at  two  or  three  to  attend  the  affairs  of  the  day.   Cut 
his  coupons  and  order  the  meals.  [Laughter] 

V.  Adams:  He  had  a  wonderful  cook,  Rita.   She  was  with  him  for  many  years. 

Teiser:  Who  was  his  secretary? 

Adams:  He  had  several.   I  forget  just  who  it  was. 

V.  Adams:  Was  his  name  Gorman — the  one  that  we  knew  first? 

Adams:     There  was  Gorman;  then  there  was  McCarthy — a  wild  Irishman, 

V.  Adams:   Then  there  was  the  last  one.   He  died  before  Hal  [Witter  Bynner] 
did,  and  Hal  felt  very  badly  about  that,  because  they'd  shared  so 
much.   He'd  built  a  whole  addition  to  his  house  that  was  for  this 
young  man,  and  then  he  was  gone  before  Hal.   I  don't  remember  now. 

Teiser:    Did  you  know  Witter  Bynner  when  he  was  in  Berkeley? 
Adams:     No,  I  never  knew  him  at  that  time. 

V.  Adams:  Not  until  he  came  back  and  we  were  at  Cedric's  [Cedric  Wright's], 
That  must  have  been  '28,  because  we  were  living  at  Cedric's  house 
on  Etna  Street,  Berkeley. 

Adams:     I  didn't  know  him  before  I  went  to  Santa  Fe. 
V.  Adams:  Yes,  we  met  him  there. 

Teiser:    Frank  Applegate — there's  an  awfully  good  picture  you  made  of  him 
that's  in  The  Eloquent  Light. 

Adams:     Oh  yes,  with  a  cigarette  ash. 
V.  Adams:   Oh,  he  was  great. 


Adams:     He  was  an  artist.   Of  course,  he  was  ill — I  think  he  had  TB  or 

some  such  disease.   He  was  from  New  Jersey,  and  he  came  out  to  New 
Mexico.   He  was  a  pretty  shrewd  man.   He  built  adobe  houses  to  sell 
them.   Then  he  would  study  the  santos — he  had  a  great  working 
knowledge  of  the  bultos  and  santos.   He  would  acquire  them  and 
restore  them,  and  that  has  driven  the  museum  people  absolutely 
wild,  because  the  restorations  are  confusingly  good  in  many 
instances.   He  had  no  idea  of  the  "museology"  of  what  he  was  doing. 

V.  Adams:   You  know  he  was  a  painter.   If  he  could  put  a  little  more  paint  on 
something — pick  it  up  a  little  bit — 

Adams:     He'd  retouch  it  and  fix  it  up — put  in  a  little  new  gesso,  etc. 

V.  Adams:   But  he  first  came  out  from  New  Jersey  and  was  sent  to  the  Hopi 

country.   They  were  having  trouble  with  their  pottery.   It  was  too 
fragile.   And  he  apparently  knew  something  about  clay.   And  they 
lived  in  one  of  the  Hopi  pueblos  for,  I  imagine,  a  year  or  so. 
And  I  said  to  his  wife,  Alta,  "What  did  you  do  for  the  bathroom?" 
She  said,  "Fortunately,  it  was  an  old  house  that  had  another  room 
that  nobody  used,  with  a  dirt  floor,"  so  they  did  just  what  the 
cats  and  dogs  do.   They  had  one  daughter  who  was  just  a  little  bit 
of  a  girl. 

Then  they  went  on  to  Santa  Fe. 

Adams:     But  he  was  quite  successful.   He  had  one  of  the  most  beautiful 
new  houses — that  is,  in  the  real  pueblo  style.   He  added  to  a 
beautiful  old  adobe;  everything  was  absolutely  authentic. 

V.  Adams:   We'll  have  to  show  you  some  of  the  pictures. 
Adams:     He  really  knew  what  he  was  doing. 

V.  Adams:   And  Ansel  took  a  lot  of  pictures  of  furniture — chests  and  things — 
for  a  hoped-for  book  that  Mary  Austin  and  Applegate  were  going  to 

Adams:     I'll  have  to  remind  Ted  Organ  [Ansel  Adams's  assistant]  that  one  of 
my  priority  projects  is  finishing  the  early  New  Mexico  pictures  for 
E.  Boyd  of  the  Museum.*  And  why  they  don't  send  me  a  bomb  in  a 
package,  because  of  my  delay,  I  don't  know. 

*Added  by  Ansel  Adams  in  July  1977:   "I  was  doing  a  series  of 
pictures  of  Spanish-American  art  and  furniture,  etc.  for  Mary  Austin 
and  Frank  Applegate.   That  folded,  and  E.  Boyd  asked  for  the  pictures 
I  made.   She  died  a  couple  of  years  ago  [30  September  1974].   I 
suppose  the  negatives  still  have  value." 


Teiser:    Have  you  promised  her  a  show? 

Adams:     It  isn't  that.   It's  all  these  things  that  aren't  fine  photographs, 
but  they're  invaluable  records. 

V.  Adams:   They're  records,  because  this  was  1927-8-9. 

Adams:     [To  Ted  Organ]  Ted,  we  ought  to  wash  them  and  refix  them  and  reduce 
them — many  of  them,  and  really  make — 

V.  Adams:   When's  he  going  to  have  time  to  do  this? 
Adams:     Oh,  he'll  have  time. 

V.  Adams:   Remember,  you  promised  that  he  could  photograph  some  of  my  Indian 
baskets  for  records,  but  he's  never  going  to  have  time  to. 

Adams:     That's  another  story. 

V.  Adams:   I  know. 

Adams:     You're  on  tape  now.  [Laughter] 

Indian  Art  and  Architecture 

Teiser:    Let's  at  least  note  that  you  have  a  fine  Indian  basket  collection. 
Back  to  New  Mexico — 

Adams:     Well,  New  Mexico's  a  very  complex  mystique,  and  I  reacted  strongly 
to  it.   One  very  interesting  thing  is  that  I'm  really  a  heathen. 
My  family  I  suppose  were  Episcopalian  originally,  but  half  of  them 
became  converted  Catholics.   Neither  my  mother  or  my  father  or  my 
immediate  family  on  that  side  had  any  direct  interest  in  religion 
at  all.   I  never  went  to  church,  and  Papa  was  a  constructive 
heathen,  and  I  hope  I  am  too.   But  the  dichotomy  of  the  situation 
is  that  always  the  primitive  Indians'  Catholic  life,  their  works 
of  art  and  their  moradas,  were  profound  in  their  emotional  effect 
on  me,  and  a  lot  of  my  photographs  relate  to  cemeteries  and  some 
of  those  beautiful  frescoes  and  objects.   I  look  at  it  as  a  kind  of 
folk  art — a  transcription  of  intense  feeling  of  people.   (And  I 
would  probably  do  the  same  thing  in  Hawaii  with  the  Buddhists.)  As 
far  as  doing  it  from  the  point  of  view  of  a  Catholic,  people  don't 
understand  why  I  should  be  interested.   And  of  course  the  people 
down  there  didn't  like  you  to  photograph  their  old,  used-up 
cemeteries  because  they're  not  taken  care  of.   Now  some  are  taken 
care  of,  which  is  ruining  the  "mood." 


Adams : 

V.  Adams: 

Teiser : 
V.  Adams: 


V.  Adams: 
Adams : 

V.  Adams: 

Adams : 

The  Mormons,  for  instance,  deeply  resented  our  photographing  old 
barns  and  old  things,  because  they  were  trying  to  raise  everything 
up  to  the  new  qualities  and  standards.   But  the  people  down  there 
in  New  Mexico  have  really  deteriorated  now  tremendously,  and 
these  cemeteries  are  a  kind  of  desolation.   The  women  can't  mud 
the  adobes  any  more.  You  used  to  see  them  out  there  putting  it  on 
by  hand.   Every  year  they  used  to  go  over  the  buildings.   They 
can't  do  it  any  more,  so  they  have  to  stucco  these  buildings. 
They  put  tin  roofs  on  them.   (That  beautiful  church  in  Hernandez 
in  my  "Moonrise"  picture  now  has  a  tin  roof.)   But  there's  nothing 
else  they  can  do,  because  there  is  no  way  to  take  care  of  it. 

With  adobe  structures,  it  takes  a  constant  putting  on  of  mud. 
That's  what  gives  it  its  peculiar  texture  and  shape.   The  people 
who  fake  it,  they  do  it  with  a  brush,  you  see.   When  they  use  the 
mud,  they  just  go  over  it  and  over  it — filling  in  the  little  cracks. 

When  Georgia  O'Keeffe  redid  her  house,  she  was  able  to  get  knowledg- 
able  people,  and  the  women  really  did  do  it  the  old  way. 

It  was  always  woman's  work,  wasn't  it? 

Yes,  that  was.   The  men,  I  guess,  made  the  adobes,  dried  them  and 
stacked  them  up,  but  when  it  came  to  the  plastering,  men  and  women 
worked  at  it.   And  the  Mexicans  did  the  same  thing. 

But  there's  an  interesting  thing,  that  some  of  the  people  were 
doing  that  with  cement.   They'd  get  a  very  careful  cement  stucco 
and  give  it  the  right  color  and  then  put  it  on  by  hand.   It  isn't 
exactly  the  same  but  it  lasts  longer — 

Yes,  of  course  it  lasts. 

Adobe  is  built  with  straw  to  hold  it  together, 
kind  of  adobe  soil  is  available. 

It  depends  on  what 

One  of  the  things  that  was  so  interesting  to  me  was  that  they 
could  analyze  something  about  the  flowers  and  things  that  were 
growing  at  the  time  an  adobe  brick  was  made,  because  they  used 
this  straw  for  the  stuff  that  made  it  stay  together.  And  they 
could  work  out  the  flora  'way  in  the  early  days. 

But  now  they  use,  of  course,  the  modern  adobe,  and  many  houses  are 
being  built  with  that.   But  that  is  usually  sized  with  a  binder  and 
it  makes  it  very  strong. 

You  see,  some  of  these  places  have  serious  trouble  because  of 
what  they  call  the  "main  vigas" — the  cross  beams.  Most  of  the 
adobe  buildings  were  really  small  except  the  churches,  and  there 


Adams : 

V.  Adams 
V.  Adams: 
Adams : 
V.  Adams ; 
Adams : 

V .  Adams : 

Adams : 
V.  Adams; 

Adams : 

they  had  trouble.   But  they  had  enough  sense  to  make  a  wood  lintel 
or  a  brick  coping  across,  I  guess  you'd  call  the  top  of  the  walls, 
because  the  heavy  beam  would  gradually  compress  the  adobe.  And  so 
they  founded  what  they  called  the  "Spanish  colonial"  style.   They 
were  built  of  adobe,  but  built  very  trimly — very  accurately — with 
a  brick  coping,  and  then  the  beams  rested  on  that. 

And  we  saw  Senator  Cutting's  house, 
colonial  house. 

It  is  a  great  classic 

You  see,  the  real  adobe  is  what  they  call  the  primitive, 
natural  adobe.   Then  you  have  the  colonial  type,  which  is  for  more 
sophisticated  people,  who  really  did  design  the  architecture.   But 
they're  walled-in  adobe,  and  very  trim,  and  the  windows  have  the 
colonial  cut.   And  they're  still  beautiful;  the  walls  are  about 
five  feet  thick. 

Have  you  been  inside  the  Carmel  Mission? 

Yes,  but  not  recently. 

There's  the  same  feeling  there. 

Yes,  but  that's  been  very  carefully  restored. 

They  have  restored  that,  yes,  but — 

It  went  to  pieces  fast  before  Harry  Downie  took  charge  of  the 

I  learned  a  lot  about  adobe I   Frank  and  I  would  tour  all  over 
the  region.   We  went  to  moradas.   I  have  a  beautiful  interior  of  a 
morada.   A  morada  was  a  penitente  chapel.   The  penitentes  were — 
were  they  actually  excommunicated? 

They  were  at  one  time,  yes.   Yes.   What  happened  was  that  the 
Catholics  went  away  from  there,  and  these  little  village  people 
kept  on  with  their  religion — 

In  their  own  way. 

In  their  own  way.  And  this  penitente  thing  that  gets  talked  about, 
where  they  whip  themselves  and  all — the  Fathers  when  they  came  back 
strongly  disapproved  of  that. 

The  Fathers  were  German  Jesuits.   Let's  see,  in  the  first  days  they 
were  Franciscans  and  very  sympathetic  to  the  natives.   But  when 
the  German  priests  came  (I  think  they  were  Jesuits) ,  they  ordered 
the  old  relics  thrown  out;  said  they  were  heathen  relics!   And 
they  imported  those  hideous  plaster  things  from  Rome.   So  we  would 


Adams:     go  into  strange  places  and  find  beautiful  old  things,  most  of 

which  have  now  been  sold  or  put  into  a  museum.   Once  in  a  while 
there  are  some  remaining,  like  the  altars  at  santuarios.  Many 
were  the  most  beautiful  things  I've  ever  seen.   And  all  too  often 
there  is  an  Italianate  picture  of  the  Virgin — or  statue — with 
pink  cheeks  and  all  otherwise  terrible.   But  they'd  dress  them  up 
and  put  all  kinds  of  geegaws  around  them. 

V.  Adams:   It  remains  very  close  to  their  hearts,  as  I  think  is  true  with  all 
peasant  groups  now. 

Ella  Young 

V.  Adams:  I  want  you  to  talk  about  the  time  when  Ella  Young  went  down  with 
us  to  Santa  Fe. 

Adams:     Well,  that's  really  a  story  I 

V.  Adams:   There's  an  interim  there,  of  course.   But  while  we're  talking  about 
that,  and  before  I  go  and  do  other  things,  let's  talk  about — 

Adams:     You  can  cut  in  on  this. 
V.  Adams:  Yes. 

Adams:  Well,  Ella  Young  was  an  Irish  poet,  also  an  Irish  revolutionary. 
She  was  a  doctor  of  jurisprudence;  she  really  was  a  lawyer.  She 
was  also  a  very  mythical-minded  Irish  lady  who  was  always  seeing 
little  people — wonderful  stories  about  that] 

V.  Adams:  Her  father  I  think  was  a  minister — not  Catholic,  but  a  minister,  of 
whatever  the  faith  was.   And  she  got  away  from  that,  and  she  lived 
in  Dublin  with  Maude  Gonne,  who  was  a  very  fine  actress  and  a  great 
friend  of  the  Irish  writer  William  Butler  Yeats.   I  think  she  was 
his  lady  friend. 

Anyway,  she  lived  there  with  them  and  they  actually  were 
active  in  that  1916  uprising.   Now  I  don't  know  that  the  public 
has  ever  known  much  about  it.   But  she  told  me  one  time  that  they 
did  have  guns  in  their  home.   I  think  she  was  kind  of  a  helper  to 
this  Maude  Gonne. 

Adams:     She  barely  escaped;  she  got  out  of  Ireland. 

V.  Adams:   And  I  think  whoever  was  her  boyfriend  was  killed,  but  I  never  knew 
who  it  was. 


V.  Adams:   But  one  time  she  took  us  with  her  when  we  went  to  lunch,  with  the 
Monsignor  at  St.  Patrick's  in  San  Francisco. 

Adams:     Marvelous  man. 

V.  Adams:  Yes,  a  charming  person,  and  she'd  known  him  in  Ireland.  And  we 
all  had  lunch  together.   I  felt  so  sorry  for  him,  because  the 
old  lady  that  kept  the  house  for  him  really  didn't  keep  it  clean. 

Adams:     Dusty,  you  know. 

V.  Adams:   It  really  was.   But  it  was  wonderful  for  Ella  Young  to  visit  him 
again,  and  they  talked  a  little  bit  about  it  [the  1916  uprising]. 
But  if  you  ever  have  a  chance  to  look  up  something  about  Maude 
Gonne — apparently  she  was  very  beautiful  and  quite  active  in  that 
revolutionary  movement. 

Adams:  She  wasn't  one  of  the  women  in  my_  life.  [Laughter] 

V.  Adams:  No,  no. 

Adams:  — our  lives.   I  must  make  this  very  precise. 

V.  Adams:  But  anyway,  this  Ella  Young  was  a  marvelous  person. 

Adams:  She  wrote  Gaelic  fairy  tales. 

V.  Adams:  I'll  show  you  some  of  her  books. 

Adams:     She  always  wore  purple  veils  or  scarfs.   And  we  always  used  to 

meet  at  Colonel  [C.E.S.]  Wood's  place.   At  Colonel  Wood's  eightieth 
birthday — 

V.  Adams:   — which  was  your  fiftieth. 

Adams:     — everybody  got  cockeyed  on  the  Colonel's  wonderful  red  wine,  and 
she  read  the  benediction  in  Gaelic  wearing  a  purple  scarf,  hanging 
on,  as  I  remember,  to  the  top  of  an  Italianate  chair.   She  could, 
of  course,  speak  beautiful  Gaelic.   She  would  declare  that  she  saw 
all  the  little  people.   And  she  practiced  all  kinds  of  little 
rituals . 

Now,  we  decided  that  we  would  go  to  New  Mexico.   And  I  have 
pictures  of  you  and  Ella  and  others  taken  in  New  Mexico. 

V.  Adams:   We  had  to  wait  until  after  Albert  Bender's  St.  Patrick's  Day  party. 
We  left  the  next  day  and  picked  her  up  at  Halcyon,  which  is  down 
the  coast,  below  Pismo  Beach. 


Adams:     Where  the  elder  Varians  lived.   It  was  a  theosophy  colony. 

We  drove  to  New  Mexico  and  had  a  couple  of  close  calls.   They 
were  rebuilding  the  road  near  Taos  and  it  caved  in. 

V.  Adams:   Well,  wasn't  that  coming  south  from  Taos? 

Adams:     Yes.   Ella — when  she  got  to  the  Arizona  border  (she  always  wanted 
to  know  when  she  entered  a  new  state) — she  left  the  car  and  poured 
a  little  wine  on  the  ground. 

V.  Adams:   And  at  every  lunch  on  the  trip  we  offered  a  libation  to  the  gods. 
We'd  have  wine  and  cheese  and  other  things  in  our  lunches.   She 
was  lovely I 

Adams:     For  a  practical  man  like  me,  it  was  a  little  screwy,  but  it  had  a 
great  charm. 

V.  Adams:   Well,  it  was  fun.  We  were  young  and  this  was  funl 

Adams:     So  we  got  along  fine  down  there.   But  she  was  very  proper.   Of 
course,  Bynner  immediately  kisses  every  woman  who  shows  up. 

V.  Adams:   She  didn't  want  to  be  kissed? 
Adams:     She  refused  to  be  kissed  by  Bynner. 
V.  Adams:   Well,  I  don't  blame  her. 

Adams:     "Oh,  come  on  Ella,  you're  just  a  friend."  "No!   My  resolution.'" 
[Laughter]   So  Ella  was  the  only  one  that  was  not  "smacked." 
Everybody  got  "smacked,"  from  six  up  to  sixty-nine. 

V.  Adams:   She  had  gone  to  stay  with  a  friend  of  hers — some  woman  whose  name 
I  don't  remember,  some  woman  who'd  been  hurt  in  an  accident  and 
blamed  the  railroad — blamed  somebody.   She  was  suing  like  mad,  and 
she  was  really  very  ill.   She  was  living  in  one  of  the  little  old 
houses  that  were  railroad  houses — you  know,  in  New  Mexico — the 
typical  ones — red  brick  and  sooty  yards. 

Ella  Young  had  told  us  that  she  would  like  to  go  and  see 
Mabel  Luhan,  and  she  said,  "I  understand  that  if  you  get  invited 
to  Mabel's,  you  can  stay." 

Adams:     You're  in. 

V.  Adams:   That's  right.   So  we  had  been  there  a  very  short  time.  We  were 

staying  at  Mary  Austin's  little  house,  and  there  was  a  party  next 
door,  and  Mabel  came.   And  I  guess  Ella  Young  was  the  one,  wasn't 


V.  Adams:   it,  that  the  party  was  for — maybe  she'd  lectured  or  something — do 
you  remember  about  that?  Well  anyway,  it  was  through  Ella  Young, 
really,  that  we  got  the  idea  that  if  you  were  "in"  with  Mabel  that 
you  got  to  go  to  Taos.   [To  Ansel  Adams]  Go  on,  go  on. 

Adams:     Well,  Mabel  was  one  thing,  and  Ella  Young  was  another.   Ella  Young 
absolutely  believed  that  New  Mexico  had  little  people,  like 
Ireland.   So  she  kept  talking  about  the  little  people  she'd  seen. 
And  Bynner  was  very  skeptical  of  these  things.   I  had  a  fairly 
open  mind;  all  the  Indians  I  knew  are  quite  real,  but  I'd  never 
heard  of  little  Indian  people.   Bynner  said,  "Now  would  you 
describe  to  me  just  how  they  look?"  And  she  did,  and  she  had  a 
most  minute  description.   They  had  Hopi  shoes,  and  Navajo  pants  and 
skirts,  and  Sioux  headdresses.  [Laughter]   War  bonnets;  all  of  them 
had  little  war  bonnets  on. 

Ella  would  talk,  and  Bynner  was  absolutely  fascinated,  because 
he  felt  that  she  had  a  great  poetic  quality. 

Now,  she  was  sponsored  and  protected,  during  the  remaining 
years  of  her  life,  by  Noel  Sullivan.   And  you  can  tie  in  a  lot  of 
things  of  Ella  Young  through  the  Noel  Sullivan  history. 

V.  Adams:   She  was  a  great  person,  really;  a  very  lovely  person. 

Adams:     So  one  day  we  were  up  at  Mabel's  place,  and  O'Keeffe  was  there — 
Georgia  O'Keeffe.   And  let's  see,  I  was  sitting  at  breakfast  with 
Mabel,  and  in  came  Ella  with  a  blue  scarf.   And  then  a  little 
later,  in  came  O'Keeffe. 

So  Ella  said,  "Well,  good  morning.   How  did  you  enjoy  your 
walk?"  O'Keeffe  says,  "What  walk?" 

V.  Adams:   Aren't  you  getting  it  the  other  way  around?  Didn't  O'Keeffe  say 
that  to  Ella? 

Adams:     Yes — I  stand  corrected!   O'Keeffe  came  in  and  said  to  Ella  Young, 
"How  did  you  enjoy  your  walk?"  And  Ella  said,  "What  walk?" 
Georgia  said,  "I  was  up  in  my  room  and  I  saw  you  walking  out 
towards  the  morada."  And  Ella  said,  "No,  I  didn't." 

"Well,"  she  said,  "I  saw  you.  You  opened  the  gate.  You 
closed  it  carefully,  and  you  walked  on  towards  the  morada,  which  is 
about  half  a  mile."  Ella  says,  "I  never  did  any  such  thing,"  and 
is  looking  a  little  bit  dismal.   And  O'Keeffe  says,  "But  I  saw  you." 

"Well,  you  didn't  see  me.  You  must  have  seen  something,  but 
you  didn't  see  me."  And  Mabel  was  getting  quite  distressed;  this 
whole  thing  was  quite  argumentative.  But  O'Keeffe  was  quite  sure. 


Adams:     And  Ella  said,  "Well,  it  must  have  been  my  astral  body."  And  then 
O'Keeffe  came  back  and  said,  "Well,  I  don't  know  what  it  was,  but 
it  was  something!"  [Laughter] 

But  this  is  the  kind  of  thing  that  was  going  on  all  the  time. 
It  was  all  crazy  as  the  devil,  but  it's  funny. 

Santa  Fe  People 

Adams:     So  there  was  Marin  and  O'Keeffe  and  Paul  Strand — at  Mabel's. 
That's  where  I  met  Marin. 

V.  Adams:   That  was  later  on. 

Adams:     I  can't  get  the  sequence  right;  these  things  are  all  telescoped 
over  a  few  years. 

Well,  then  Mary  Austin  fixed  it  up  with  the  Taos  governor 
through  Tony — 

V.  Adams:  Mabel  Luhan's  husband,  Tony  Luhan. 

Adams:     — fixed  it  up  for  me  to  come  and  photograph  Taos — to  do  a  book 
with  her. 

Teiser:    They  were  very  careful  about  who  they'd  let  in  at  Taos? 

Adams:     Yes,  they  had  an  all-night  council  meeting  and  finally  decided  I 
could  do  it. 

V.  Adams:  We  did  a  book  about  Taos  Pueblo.   Have  you  seen  that  book?  We'll 
have  to  show  you,  if  you  haven't  seen  it.   It's  a  big  book. 

Teiser:    This  is  the  1930  book,  Taos  Pueblo? 

Adams:     Yes.  Mary  Austin  wrote  the  text.   The  crazy  thing  was,  you  see, 

that  Mary  Austin  had  it  a  bit  on  Mabel.   Because  Mabel  had  Tony  as 
a  chauffeur  when  she  first  came,  and  then  she  fell  heavy  for  Tony. 
And  it  was  no  matter  that  Tony  had  an  Indian  wife.   So  there  was 
some  legal  or  illegal  divorcement.   Then  Mary  Austin  suddenly  moved 
in;  she  had  to  protect  the  Indian  wife  because  of  her  avowed  interest 
in  the  Indians.   She  arranged  that  Mabel  pay  alimony  to  the  Indian 
wife  as  long  as  she  lived.   Of  course,  Mabel  was  a  tremendously 
wealthy  woman,  so  it  couldn't  possibly  have  affected  her.  [Laughter] 


Adams:     There's  a  marvelous  story  about  Mabel.   Let's  see,  it's  "Mabel 
Dodge  Sterne  Evans  Luhan."* 

Well,  Edwin  Dodge  was  sitting  in  his  club  in  New  York.   And 
somebody  came  in  and  said,  "Guess  what  your  ex-wife  has  done." 
And  he  said,  "I  haven't  got  the  slightest  idea.   She  can  do 
anything."  Well,  she's  going  to  marry  a  full-blooded  Taos  Indian." 
Edwin  looked  around  and  raised  his  head  and  said,  "Lo,  the  poor 
Indian!"  [Laughter] 

When  she  married  Maurice  Sterne — everybody's  dead  now — she 
met  him  in  Europe  at  a  salon  in  Florence  or  Venice  or  somewhere, 
and  they  got  married.  And  Mabel  went  to  New  Mexico  on  the 
honeymoon,  and  he  went  to  Florida.  [Laughter]   So  you  get  some 
idea  of  the  whole  situation  involved  in  this  thing. 

Then  Evans  came  before  that. 
V.  Adams:   She'd  had  one  son,  John  Evans. 

Adams:     John  Evans  was  quite  a  nice  guy.   Saw  his  house  in  Santa  Fe.   Of 
all  the  crazy  things  to  build  in  the  Santa  Fe  country,  it's  an 
English  manor  house,  but  that's  what  he  did. 

V.  Adams:   They  came  from  New  York. 

Adams:     Well,  let's  see.   The  Santa  Fe  experience  was  a  very  complex  inter 
mingling  of  work  with  Frank  Applegate  and  Mary  Austin. 

Teiser:    What  was  the  original  concept  of  that  project? 

Adams:     It  was  to  be  a  book  on  Spanish-American  art  and  decoration. 

Teiser:    As  a  whole? 

Adams:     As  a  whole.   It  was  very  vague.   There' d  never  been  a  real 

scholar  involved.   It  was  the  first  time  I  realized,  I  think,  what 
the  difference  between  the  interest  of  a  dilettante  and  a  real 
scholar  is.   Because  nobody  was  analyzing  this.   They'd  say,  "Well, 
there's  a  chest,"  and  you'd  go  and  photograph  that — and  nobody  was 
really  getting  this  project  organized.   That's  what  E.  Boyd,  who 
was  an  art  history  person  with  the  museum,  a  really  highly  trained 
person,  could  do. 

V.  Adams:   And  quite  a  characterl 

*Born  Mabel  Ganson,  she  married  successively  Carl  Evans,  Edwin 
Dodge,  Maurice  Sterne,  and  Antonio  Luhan. 


Adams:     Oh,  she's  marvelous,  yes.   There  was  Marie  Garland — 
V.  Adams:   Hamlin  Garland's  ex-wife. 

Adams:     She  married  Henwar  Rodakiewicz — Polish;  he's  one  of  my  oldest 
friends,  and  he's  still  living  in  New  York.   He's  a  creative 
cinema  man. 

And  we  had  many  parties  out  there  at  their  ranch  north  of 
Santa  Fe. 

V.  Adams:   It's  a  marvelous  place — 

Adams:     It's  still  there. 

Teiser:    How  did  all  these  people  happen  to  be  living  around  Santa  Fe? 

V.  Adams:   Because  they  liked  to  live  in  that  country.   It's  just  like  people 
like  to  live  in  Carmel.   It  just  does  something  to  you — makes  you 
happy  to  be  there.   But  they  have  to  have  enough  money  to  be  able 
to  live  there,  because  you  don't  live  on  the  country. 

Adams:     There  are  a  great  many  wealthy  easterners.   It's  an  impossible 

place  for  a  gringo  to  make  a  living,  except  a  few  bankers  who  can 
sure  milk  the  native  populace.   But  you  had  some  very  wealthy 
families — the  White  sisters  from  Boston,  and  the  McCormicks,  and 
any  number  of  people  came  who  had  the  means  just  to  live.   Witter 
Bynner  was  financially  independent;  Arthur  Davidson  Ficke  made  a 
fortune  in  Japanese  prints.   Mary  Austin  was  probably  one  of  the 
few  really  hard-working  people  who  lived  there — writing. 

V.  Adams:   But  some  of  the  artists  live  there  now  by  the  skin  of  their  teeth. 

Adams:     Yes.   Of  course,  a  lot  of  the  good  artists,  they'd  sell  a  few 

things  there,  but  they'd  send  most  of  their  work  east.   Like  all 
the  good  artists  here  rarely  show  in  Carmel.   The  Carmel  Art 
Association  has  an  occasional  show  for  many  of  the  few  very  fine 
artists  around  here,  but  some  of  them  I've  never  seen. 

Teiser:  Was  Frieda  Lawrence  still  around? 

V.  Adams:  She  wasn't  around  when  we  were  there. 

Adams:  I  never  met  [D.H.]  Lawrence;  Lawrence  was  before  my  time. 

V.  Adams:  Did  you  meet  her?   I  never  met  her. 

Adams:     Oh,  I  met  Frieda  once.   And  then  I  met  Toby — Toby's  the  name  of 
the  ear  trumpet. 


V.  Adams:   Oh,  Brett!   The  Honorable  Dorothy  Brett,  who  had  a  trumpet  named 

Adams:     She  was  deaf.  [Laughter]   But  when  she  really  became  impassioned 

in  discussion,  she'd  put  the  trumpet  down  in  her  lap  and  just  talk 
to  you  perfectly  normally.  But  if  she  was  bored  or  something, 
she'd  put  this  up  and  say,  "What?"  [Laughter] 

V.  Adams:   She's  still  in  existence,  isn't  she? 
Adams:     Oh  yes,  I  think  so. 

The  most  wonderful  group  of  nuts  you  can  possibly  imagine! 
Teiser:    You  mentioned 'someone  named  Long? 

Adams:     Haniel.   He  was  a  writer  and  poet.   I  think  he  was  a  friend  of 
MacLeish — Archibald  MacLeish,  but  I  don't  really  know. 

V.  Adams:   He  was  a  writer  and  he  published  things  in  the  Santa  Fe  area. 

Adams:     And  he  also  published  in  the  East.   But  again,  most  of  these 

people  had  income  from  outside.   Of  course,  now  Santa  Fe  is  a  big 
place,  and  lots  of  people  can  make  money  there,  in  real  estate  and 
stores  and  so  on,  but  it  still  is  not  a  real  money-producing  place. 
Albuquerque  depends  largely  on  science — NASA,  you  know,  the  Sandia 
base.   And  the  farming,  and  the  cattle  and  all  that  is  really  small 
family  stuff  still,  isn't  it? 

V.  Adams:   Well,  I  don't  know. 

Adams:     I  don't  think  there  are  any  great  corporate  farms,  like  there  are 
in  California. 

Teiser:    You  mentioned  Will  Shuster — 

V.  Adams:   Yes,  he  was  an  artist — painter. 

Adams:     Oh,  there  were  so  many  I  can't  think  of  all  of  them. 

Taos  Pueblo 

Teiser:    Whose  idea  was  the  Taos  book — yours,  or  Mary  Austin's? 

Adams:     I  think,  frankly,  it  was  mine.   I  mentioned  it  to  Albert  Bender, 

and  he  thought  it  was  a  good  idea,  and  said  to  see  if  Mary  would  do 
the  text.   And  Mary  would  do  the  text.   And  then,  Albert  got  Grabhorn 


Adams:     to  do  the  typography.   And  Dassonville,  who  was  a  photographer  and 
manufactured,  at  that  time,  the  finest  photographic  paper,  which 
was  pure  silver  bromide  on  rag  paper,  he  was  going  to  coat  the 
paper.   So  we  ordered  a  quantity  from  a  New  England  mill,  which 
was  divided  between  Grabhorn  and  Dassonville — the  same  paper  stock. 
And  the  only  thing  that  we  missed  on  was  that  the  paper  should  have 
been  soaked  before  it  was  printed  by  Grabhorn,  because  the  paper 
was  fairly  smooth  when  it  came,  but  when  it  was  coated  with  the 
photographic  emulsion  and  then  developed,  fixed,  and  washed,  it 
took  on  a  certain  texture  a  little  different  from  the  printed 
sheets  in  the  book.  Apparently,  the  sheets  differ  in  look  and 
feel  although  they're  both  exactly  the  same  basic  paper.   And  that 
was  before  the  time  of  toning,  before  the  time  we  knew  about  two 
hypo  baths.   And  some  of  these  prints  are  not  permanent,  which 
bothers  me  very  much — a  few  are  "turning"  a  little. 

V.  Adams:   The  Book  Club  [of  California]  is  kind  of  interested  in  the  idea  of 
republishing  it. 

Adams:     Yes,  it  could  be  published — 

V.  Adams:   Nobody  has  ever  read  this  text  except  the  hundred  people  who 
bought  the  book.   It's  a  charming  essay. 

Adams:     You'd  have  to  just  use  a  printing  process  that  would  simulate  the 
qualities  of  the  prints — probably  right  from  the  page. 

V.  Adams:   The  linen  for  the  binding,  the  rust-colored  linen,  was  dyed 

by  Hazel  Dreiss,  and  she  made  the  binding  and  the  end-papers. 

Adams:  The  end  leather,  they  call  it. 

V.  Adams:  It  came  from  England. 

Adams:  No,  from  Algeria. 

V.  Adams:  Anyway,  it's  very  special. 

Adams:     Everybody  was  broke,  and  Hazel  Dreiss  called  up  and  said,  "The 

leather  for  the  book's  here,  but  there's  a  four-hundred-dollar  bill, 
and  I  don't  have  it.  Do  you  have  it?"  And  I  said,  "No." 

"Well,  who's  got  that  money?  It  will  be  returned  if  I  don't 
pay  it.   So  who  do  I  call?"  I  said,  "Albert  Bender."  He  said, 
"All  right"  and  sent  the  check  (as  usual.'.').* 

*See  also  other  references  to  Taos  Pueblo  as  indexed. 


V.  Adams:   He  was  a  wonderful  person. 

Adams:     He  always  came  through,  and  he  was  not  a  rich  man — he  was  well-to-do 
but  nothing  much  above  average. 

V.  Adams:   He'd  earned  it  in  his  insurance  business;  he'd  worked  hard. 
Adams:     He  lived  alone.   But  he  was  the  most  generous  person. 

Teiser:    In  Mrs.  Newhall's  book,  it  says  he  had  a  housekeeper  who  was  a 
terrible  cook. 

Adams:     Oh,  perfectly  awful. 

V.  Adams:   Mrs.  Ayres. 

Teiser:    Do  you  recall  Anne  Bremer? 

V.  Adams:   That  was  a  cousin  of  his,  a  very  sweet  person,  I  guess.   I  never 
met  her.   Did  you  meet  her? 

Adams:  An  artist — I  met  her  once — very  hazy  recollection  of  it. 

V.  Adams:  And  then  she  died;  he  was  very  fond  of  her. 

Adams:  That  was  his  great  personal  tragedy. 

Teiser:  Over  how  long  a  period  did  you  photograph  Taos? 

Adams:  I  did  it  all  in  one  year,  I  think. 

V.  Adams:  That  spring  of  1929. 

Teiser:  All  in  one  season? 

Adams:     I  think  I  came  back  later  and  did  one  photograph.   And  of  course 
there  is  in  the  book  the  great  church  of  the  Ranches  de  Taos, 
which  has  nothing  to  do  with  Taos  Pueblo  and  really  should  not  be 
in  the  book.   But  it  was  so  closely  identified  with  the  area! 

V.  Adams:   And  was  so  beautiful. 

Adams:     It  is  the  greatest  building  of  its  kind  in  America.   It's  just  an 
incredible  thing.  And  we  put  that  in,  called  the  Ranches  church, 
and  Mary  Austin  thought  it  was  all  right  to  do  it.   But  we  had  the 
old  church  ruins,  the  new  church,  and  then  the  Ranches  church.  And 
seeing  that  these  were  the  intrusions  of  the  Catholics,  it  didn't 
make  much  difference;  but  strictly,  it's  not  Taos  Pueblo. 

V.  Adams:   Well,  they're  old  and  new — 


Adams:     I  made  a  picture  of  a  kiva  in  a  dust  storm.   The  camera  was 

shaking  in  the  gale.   I  really  got  into  Taos ;  to  do  it  today, 
you'd  do  it  totally  differently. 

V.  Adams:   You  couldn't  do  it  today,  Ansel.   Because  it's  different.   I  mean, 
there  were  still  the  people  there  who  really  felt  for  it.  Now, 
you're  just  a  tourist  and  you  pay  your  money  and  you  get  to  take 
some  pictures — 

Adams:     Yes,  but  I  still  think  if  you  went  there,  and  wanted  to  do  a 

definitive  book — not  on  a  tourist  basis — that  you  could  do  it. 
You'd  have  to  pay  for  it,  which  you  should. 

Teiser:    Did  you  then? 

Adams:     I  gave  them  a  book.   I  think  I  paid  a  hundred  dollars  too. 

V.  Adams:   Mary  Austin  said  they  wrapped  the  book  in  deerskin  and  put  it  in 
their  archives. 

Adams:  It's  in  the  kiva. 

Teiser:  Oh,  it  is! 

V.  Adams:  It's  very  precious. 

Teiser:  Did  they  help  you?  Were  they  interested  in  what  you  were  doing? 

Adams:     Oh  yes.   They  were  very  good.   The  word  went  out  to  help.   And  I 
didn't  have  any  trouble  at  all,  except  one  time  a  big  fat  Indian 
jumps  on  the  running  board  of  the  car:   "Pay  me  one  dollar."  And 
I  said  no,  it  was  already  paid  for.   We  paid  a  hundred  dollars  for 
the  right  to  do  the  book.   He  said,  "Pay  me  one  dollar."  And  I 
speeded  up  the  car  and  he  almost  fell  off,  and  I  felt  bad  about  it. 

I  told  Tony  [Luhan]  about  it.   "Oh,  he  damn  fool.   Pay  no 
attention."  [Laughter] 

Teiser:  Was  Tony  Luhan  a  Taos  Indian? 

Adams:  Full-blooded  Taos  Indian,  yes.   Slightly  ostracized — 
V.  Adams:  Well,  he'd  sloughed  off  his  wife- 
Adams:  Of  course,  Mabel  did  a  lot  for  the  Taos  Indians. 

V.  Adams:   One  time  I  went  with  Tony  to  the  Indian  school,  and  he  talked  to 

some  little  boys  who  must  have  been  his  children.   He  said,  "They're 
my  nephews . " 


Teiser:    The  picture  of  Tony  in  the  Taos  book  was  done  in  San  Francisco? 
Adams:     The  picture  of  Tony  was  done  in  my  studio  in  San  Francisco. 

V.  Adams:   It  was  so  thrilling.   He  would  take  just  a  little  drum  that  we  had 
and  he  would  sit  in  the  yard  and  sing,  and  all  the  neighborhood 
kids  would  come  around.   Oh,  it  was  such  fun.   He  was  sweet. 

Adams:     It  was  really  an  experience. 

Teiser:    There's  such  a  big  literature  on  all  this,  and  often  Tony  Luhan  is 
made  fun  of. 

Adams:     Well,  the  point  is  that  an  awful  lot  of  sophisticates  try  to  get 
on  this  bandwagon,  and  they  really  don't  know  anything  about  it, 
you  see.   Hearsay,  and  second  hearsay,  and  all  kinds  of  very 
strange  misinterpretations.   But  I  think  he  was  much  more  naive 
than  anybody  could  imagine.   But  Mabel  was  a  hunter,  and  she 
hunted  all  the  prominent  people  to  bring  there;  she  literally 
captured  them! 

V.  Adams:   She  took  us  up  to  that  cave,  I  don't  know  where  it  was. 
Adams:     Wasn't  it  near  the  Blue  Lakes? 

V.  Adams:   No.   Arroyo  something — I  don't  know.   We  went  up  the  valley,  as  if 
we  were  going  to  Colorado,  and  then  we  went  up  a  canyon. 

Adams:     Oh  yes,  I  know. 

V.  Adams:   And  it  was  something  that  was  supposed  to  be  very  serious,  and 

the  light  came  down  at  a  certain  angle  at  a  certain  time.  And  she 
said  maybe  the  Aztecs  had  been  there.   I  mean,  it  was  very  super- 
super.   And  some  girl  she'd  taken  there  just  felt  that  she  saw 
them  all  there,  and  she  crawled  out  of  the  cave — 

Adams:     She  was  slightly  fey. 

V.  Adams:   She  had  a  feel  for  all  those  things.  [Laughter] 

[End  Tape  7,  Side  2] 

[Begin  Tape  8,  Side  1] 

Adams:     Well,  I  think  an  analysis  of  this  whole  Mabel  Luhan  business  would 
be  exciting,  because  she,  of  course,  had,  as  I  said,  a  tremendous 
amount  of  money  and  influence. 

V.  Adams:   You've  read  some  of  her  books,  haven't  you? 


Teiser:    Yes. 

Adams:     She  had  a  salon  in  Italy,  and  she  was  always  gathering  people  unto 
her.  And  the  biggest  feather  in  her  cap — it  was  quite  a  struggle — 
was  to  get  Lawrence  to  New  Mexico.   Now,  as  far  as  I  can  make  out, 
from  reading  the  things  and  knowing  her,  that  poor  old  Lawrence 
was  dragged  there  by  his  beard,  and  was  very  unhappy,  because  he 
became  sort  of  a  curiosity.   She  could  afford  anything,  and  she 
just  kept  these  people;  she  would  collect  these  celebrities. 

V.   Adams:      She  probably   fought  with  Frieda,   didn't  she? 

Adams:  She  fought  with  everybody,    in  the  end.     We   got   along  all  right;   but 

she  was  mad  at  me  one  time — furious. 

Teiser:         Why? 

Adams:     I  don't  know;  I  guess  I  wasn't  sympathetic  enough.   If  you  ever 

raised  your  voice  in  the  slightest  bit  of  criticism,  you  were  out. 
But  I  never  really  got  out,  I  just  got  put  in  the  dog  house. 

V.  Adams:  You  didn't  fall  for  her,  Ansel;  you  know,  that's  one  of  the  things. 

Adams:     You  see,  I  didn't  have  any  concept  at  all  of  being  a  celebrity,  of 
being  important  to  anything. 

V.  Adams:  Well,  you  were  just  a  young  man — 

Adams:     I  was  just  trying  to  do  photographs.   Of  course,  now  you  have  this 
feeling — people  tell  you  you're  celebrated  or  well  known,  and  so 
on.   It  didn't  make  any  impression  on  me  because  this  is  the  kind 
of  thing  that  only  historians  can  define,  and  I  know  I've  made 
certain  contributions,  but  certainly  at  that  time  I  was  a  nonentity 
and  was  coming  on  the  coattails  (if  you'll  pardon  the  metaphor)  of 
Mary  Austin  and  a  few  others. 

But  Frank  Applegate  and  she  had  a  falling  out — 
V.  Adams:  Mabel? 
Adams:     Yes.   They  had  a  falling  out. 

V.  Adams:   Well,  she'd  had  a  falling  out  with  anybody  who  wasn't  under  her 
thumb,  I  think. 

Adams:     I  think  she  was  hypersexed — 

V.  Adams:   And  you  and  Frank  Applegate  didn't  fall  for  it. 

Adams:     No,  thank  God.'   I  must  hasten  to  say  that  my  hyper  was  very  different 
from  her  hyper.  [Loud  laughter]  Hypo  too! 


Adams:     Well,  anyway,  the  whole  New  Mexican  picture,  of  course,  is  very 
mixed.   I  think  we  got  through  a  lot  of  it. 

V.  Adams:  Well,  we  did  go  out  to  Taos.  We  did  stay  at  Mabel's,  and  Ella 
Young  stayed  at  Mabel's. 

Paul  Strand  and  a  New  Approach 

Adams:     And  that's  where  I  met  Paul  Strand  and  saw  his  negatives,  which 
changed  my  whole  direction  in  photography.   This  was  after  I  had 
done  the  Taos  book  pictures.   Then  I  saw  Paul  Strand's  negatives, 
and  the  approach  was  something  so  tremendous  to  me  that  I  literally 
changed  my  approach.   And  I  can  say  that  when  I  came  back  to 
California  the  seed  of  the  Group  f/64  movement  was  sown. 

While  other  people  had  been  working  with  the  "straight"  idea, 
I  don't  think  other  people  had  ever  stretched  it  as  much.  We  made 
it  a  bit  of  a  cult,  in  a  sense — that  isn't  the  right  word — what 
would  you  say? 

V.  Adams:   I  don't  know,  but  you  all  got  together  and  said,  "Now  this  is  the 
way  we  feel  photography  should  be,"  and  they  talked  about  how  to 
do  it,  and  what  kind  of  a  name  to  give  the  approach. 

Adams:     I'm  trying  to  get  the  bridge  between  my  experience  with  Strand  and 
my  change  of  style.  My  change  was  very  definite  after  that.  I 
think  I  was — with  the  exception  of  Weston — the  first  one  to  make 
the  change,  and  then  many  others  followed. 

I'll  never  forget  one  photographer  (I  can't  remember  his  name), 
when  I  did  my  Golden  Gate  picture  before  the  bridge — 1933,  I 
guess*,  and  Albert  had  it  published — a  little  printed  thing  to  give 
all  his  friends;  he  called  it  a  keepsake.   This  man  was  perfectly 
furious,  because  he  said,  "This  isn't  the  Golden  Gate."  And  it  was 
nothing  but  jealousy,  probably  because  he'd  tried  to  take  it,  but 
I  was  lucky  and  had  a  good  day  and  beautiful  clouds.   We've  never 
been  able  to  find  out  what  he  meant  by  saying,  "This  isn't  the 
Golden  Gate."  Was  it  because  it  wasn't  his  concept,  or  was  he 
peeved  over  the  clouds? 

V.  Adams:   Did  he  want  to  see  it  looking  the  other  way? 

*It  is  titled  "Golden  Gate,  1932"  in  The  Eloquent  Light. 


Adams:     No,  because  the  Golden  Gate  is  as  you  come  in — it's  the  gate  to 

the  harbor,  not  the  gate  to  the  ocean.   So  for  quite  a  time  there 
was  a  little  conjecture  on  this  statement,  "This  isn't  the  Golden 
Gate."  And  it  was  a  very  cryptic  statement.   It  probably  was  that 
the  Golden  Gate  was  really  mostly  fogbound,  and  that  we  had  a 
glorious  pile-up  of  cumulus  clouds,  which  is  unusual,  and  it  was 
a  damned  good  photograph,  and  he  hadn't  made  any  one  as  good  as 
that,  so  he  was  probably  jealous.  And  I  never  have  seen  a 
photograph  that  carried  quite  those  qualities,  and  I  think  that's 
entirely  a  matter  of  luck,  because  I  lived  near  there  and  I  saw 
these  clouds,  and  so  on! 

V.  Adams:   How  big  a  picture  could  you  make  of  that  now? 

Adams:     Oh,  I  have  30  by  40 — 40  by  60  inch  enlargements.   It's  a  little 
soft.   I  used  an  old  Kodak  film,  but  I  made  the  best  prints  I've 
ever  made  of  it  just  the  other  day, 

V.  Adams:   Just  looking  at  all  these  big  things  today — and  the  ones  that  were 
good  and  the  ones  that  weren't  good  enough — is  quite  an  experience. 

Adams:     That's  it.   Yes.   Now,  I  don't  know  why  that  isn't  the  Golden  Gate. 

V.  Adams:   I  don't  know  why  it  isn't  either. 

Adams:     Except  that  probably  the  man  didn't  like  clouds. 

V.  Adams:   Well,  Ansel,  did  you  use  any  of  that  in  the  American  Trust  book? 
[The  Pageant  of  History  in  Northern  California] 

Adams:     No,  I  don't  think  that's  in  it. 

V.  Adams:  He  did  a  lot  of  pictures  for  the  new  Bank  of  California. 

Teiser:    When? 

Adams:     Within  the  past  decade.   I  have  three  rooms  in  the  new  building  [the 
headquarters  building  in  San  Francisco]:   the  Washington  room,  the 
Oregon  room,  and  the  California  room.  You  go  and  ask,  "Can  they  be 
seen  today?"  It  would  be  a  very  good  idea  to  see  it;  it  might  be 
interesting  to  see  how  pictures  are  used  in  decor  in  a  room. 
They're  all  stainless  steel  frames. 

For  the  book  I  did  for  Wells  Fargo  Bank — that  was  the  American 
Trust  Company  then — we  wanted  "The  Triumph  of  Enterprise"  as  its 
title.   And  the  one  powerful  man  on  the  board  of  directors  was  the 
stupidest  man  I've  ever  seen.  He  said,  "I  don't  want  any  of  that 
crap.   That's  one  of  those  goddamned  phony  titles.   I  want  to  call 
it  a  'Pageant  of  History  in  Northern  California'."  I  had  to  give  in 
to  it.   But  imagine:   "Triumph  of  Enterprise"  tells  the  whole  story 
so  beautifullv. 


V.  Adams:   Beautifully. 

Adams:     Maybe  I  should  suggest  they  do  a  new  book  called  "The  Triumph  of 

Enterprise."  But  it  was  the  triumph  of  enterprise.   It's  California 
that  was  nothing  at  first,  begins  in  gold,  but  that's  only  part  of 
the  development.   In  fact,  there  was  a  very  interesting  discussion 
in  Yosemite  that  most  of  the  gold  was  taken  out  of  California  by 
the  Spaniards  long  before  they  left. 

V.  Adams:   Not  most,  but  lots. 

Adams:     Well,  there  was  all  the  surface  gold.   Much  more  gold  than  we  ever 
got  out  of  it  in  our  mining.   They  cleaned  out  stream  after  stream. 
This  is  something  which  somebody's  got  to  do  a  lot  of  research  in. 
And  it  was  a  hundred  and  something  years  before  the  Anglos  came 
over.   But  the  gold  was  lying  right  there  in  the  stream  and  was 
perfectly  obvious.   And  they  left  some  until  Sutter's  man  [James 
Marshall]  found  it. 

V.  Adams:   In  Southern  California  they  certainly  were  mining  earlier. 

Adams:     They  apparently  were  all  over  the  place. 

V.  Adams:   That  is  a  thing  I  would  need  to  have  more  documentation  on. 

Adams:     Well,  it  is  a  very  important  thing.   And  historians  shy  clear 
because  there  isn't  more  documentation. 

Santa  Fe  People,  Continued 

V.  Adams:   Ansel,  one  of  the  times  when  you  were  at  Taos,  Becky  [Mrs.  Paul] 
Strand  and  Georgia  O'Keeffe  lived  in  one  of  Mabel's  houses  across 
a  meadowland.   And  then  later  on  you  went  up  there,  maybe  to  take 
that  one  picture  that  you  wanted  to  do  afterwards,  and  for  some 
reason  or  other,  Mabel  was  upset — 

Adams:     Said  she  had  no  room  for  me.  And  Becky  Strand  stood  up  for  me  and 
said,  "Mabel,  that  big  studio  is  entirely  vacant,  and  you  put  Adams 
up  in  that  studio."   (Everybody  in  Stieglitz's  group  called 
everybody  by  his  last  name.)   "Or  else!"  And  by  gosh,  I  was  over 
there  in  a  cot  in  this  enormous  studio. 

V.  Adams:   But  Mabel  was  just  mad  at  the  time,  and  she  didn't  want  anything  to 
do  with  Ansel. 

Adams:     Very  mercurial.   But  she  was  very  nice  the  last  time  I  saw  her  before 
she  died,  and  so  I  have — 


V.  Adams: 


V .  Adams ; 

V.  Adams: 

V.  Adams: 


V.  Adams: 

V.  Adams : 

V.  Adams: 

Adams : 
V.  Adams: 

They  came  down  here  to  Carmel  a  number  of  times.   And  I  guess  one 
of  her  last  times  was  to  get  Robinson  Jeffers  and  his  family  to 
come  to  Taos . 

Oh,  that  was  a  tragedy,  because  she  got  him  and  started  putting 
Robin  on  the  make,  and  Una  attempted  suicide  in  the  bathtub — cut 
her  wrists,  but  it  was  a  failure.   It  was  that  kind  of  an  intense 
situation.   If  you  didn't  have  a  clinical  approach  to  life... 

Well  now,  what  more  about  New  Mexico,  while  you're  thinking  about 

To  conclude  the  story  about  Robinson  Jeffers,  he  went? 
Yes.  And  wrote  some  poems. 

He  went  down  to  Taos,  yes.   And  his  wife  was  so  upset  about  it  that, 
of  course,  it  ruined  everybody's  point  of  view. 

Yes,  that  was  really  terrible. 

After  that,  I  guess,  they  went  to  Ireland  once  or  twice,  and  they 
had  a  happy  time  there.   Mabel,  for  once,  didn't  really  win. 

Mabel  was  after  Robin,  and  that  was  it.  And  Una  wasn't  going  to 
take  it.  I  don't  know  what  his  attitude  was.  I  suppose  he — she 
was  a  bedazzling  person.  I  mean,  you  had  this  opulence  and  style — 

I  don't  think  opulence  would  affect  him,  but  she  was  an  intelligent 

Well,  it  was  intellectual  opulence.   And  Una  was  a  very  quiet 
person — very  intelligent  and  nice — but  there  was  a  very  great 
difference  from  the  quiet  of  the  Tor  House  in  Carmel  to  this  super 
spectacular  landscape  and  house  at  Taos. 

Probably  Jeffers  just  hid  behind  his  pipe  and  didn't  say  much  of 

Well,  you  don't  know. 

We  don't  know.  We  weren't  around  at  that  time. 

What  sort  of  a  woman  was  Mary  Austin?  Was  she  a  commanding  person 

She  was  a  commando!  [Laughter]   She  thought  she  was  the  most 
beautiful  woman  alive. 

Well,  not  beautiful  physically — 


Adams:     Oh  yes,  the  most  beautiful  and  appealing  woman. 
V.  Adams:   Noble. 

Teiser:    Well,  in  your  picture  reproduced  in  The  Eloquent  Light  she's 
certainly — 

V.  Adams:   Well,  that's  the  most  becoming  picture  I've  ever  seen  of  her. 

Adams:     She  was  very  intense.   Extremely  intelligent.   Extremely 

opinionated,  and  thought  that  all  men  were  just  going  to  fall 
right  at  her  feet. 

I  think  I  can  tell  this  story  about  Orage  at  a  party  at 
Bynner's,  with  Mary  Austin.   This  is  really  very  funny.   Orage,  of 
course,  was  a  provocative  person.   He  was  a  disciple  of  Gurdjieff. 

Teiser:    I  didn't  realize  he  was  in  the  West. 

Adams:     Oh  yes.  We  were  very  good  friends,  and  I  have  an  excellent 
picture  of  him. 

Well  anyhow,  they  were  at  Bynner's  and  Orage  was  giving  a 
little  seminar  discussion  in  which  he  said  he  figures  that  the 
value  of  literary  work  is  entirely  what  you  were  paid  for  it — he 
was  that  kind  of  a  person.   He'd  say  these  provocative  things,  you 

V.  Adams:   Always  stimulating  conversation  with  him! 

Adams:     So  Mary  Austin  said,  "I  dispute  this."  He  said,  "Well,  Miss  Austin, 
history  seems  to  bear  this  out."  She  said,  "I  dispute  that."  He 
said,  "Well,  Miss  Austin,  that's  what  I  believe."  She  said,  "Mr. 
Orage,  do  you  mean  to  say  that  if  I  sell  a  production  novel,  or  a 
story  for  the  Ladies'  Home  Journal,  for  five  thousand  dollars  that 
that's  more  important  than  my  books  on  the  Southwest,  my  creative 
series,  my  creative  work?"  He  said,  "Yes.   If  you  sold  it  for  five 
thousand  dollars,  I  would  say  it  was  more  important."  She  said, 
"Why,  Mr.  Orage,  I  would  rather  prostitute  my  body  than  do  that." 
He  said,  "Don't  worry,  Miss  Austin,  you  couldn't."  [Laughter]  Dead 
silence!  One  of  the  greatest  stories  I've  ever  heard,  and  I  was 
right  there  when  it  happened.  Oh,  that's  the  kind  of  thing  that 
went  on  down  there  all  the  time,  and  Bynner  was  just  about  blowing 
a  cork.   He  was  very,  very  kind,  very  intelligent,  a  very  considerate 
man,  and  he  couldn't  laugh.   I  could  just  see  him  sort  of  holding 
back.   That  was  really  a  great  story. 

Teiser:    Was  working  with  her  difficult? 


Adams:     I  never  had  any  trouble  with  Mary.   She  wrote  an  iron-bound  contract 
on  the  book  with  the  idea  that  among  friends  a  contract  should  be 
severe  and  nothing  left  to  argument.   Can  you  remember  one  episode 
that  wasn't  pleasant? 

V.  Adams:   No. 

Adams:     She  was  mad  at  you  once,  because  you  didn't  have  lunch  ready  for 
the  working  man — that's  right. 

V.  Adams:   I  don't  remember  that. 

Adams:     A  man  was  working  in  the  garden,  and  you  said  you'd  have  lunch,  and 
it  was  twelve  o'clock  and  it  wasn't  quite  ready,  and  she  said,  "Oh, 
the  working  man  has  to  have  his  lunch  right  on  time."  But  she 
liked  you  much  better  than  most  people. 

V.  Adams:   I  don't  even  remember  that. 

Well,  I  remember  the  trouble  I  had  trying  to  get  things  ready 
for  the  working  men  [in  Yosemite]  when  I  was  eighteen,  but  this  was 
after  I  had  gotten  married.   I  just  don't  remember. 

Adams:     That's  the  only  thing.   Let's  see — she  was  mad  at  me  for  something 
else.   Oh,  I  wrote  a  letter  to  the  Yale  Press  saying  that  it  was 
all  right  with  me  to  do  something  extra  to  the  text  of  The  Land  of 
Little  Rain,  but  you'd  have  to  check  with  Mary  Austin.   And  her 
letter  to  me  was,  "You  have  no  idea  of  the  terrible  thing  you  have 
done.  You  should  have  checked  with  me  first  before  you  wrote  the 
Yale  Press." 

V.  Adams:   She  stood  on  her  rights. 

Adams:     That  was  perfectly  ridiculous,  but  that  was  the  end  of  that.   I 
mean,  we  were  all  very  good  friends. 

V.  Adams:   She  was  awfully  nice  to  us;  she  was  really. 

Taos  Pueblo,  Continued,  and  The  Land  of  Little  Rain 

Teiser:    For  the  Taos  book,  did  you  show  her  the  photographs  and  she  followed 
them  with  the  text?  How  did  it  work? 

Adams:     No,  no.   She  did  the  text  and  left  me  alone.   The  text  doesn't 

relate  to  the  photographs.   It's  an  essay  on  Taos.   It's  very  good. 
I  think  we  really  should  reprint  that. 


V.  Adams: 
Adams : 
V.  Adams: 

Adams : 

V.  Adams: 

V.  Adams: 
Adams : 
V .  Adams : 

V.  Adams: 

V .  Adams 
Adams : 

I  think  so . 

I  think  Morgan  &  Morgan  could  do  that. 

Well,  Jim  Holliday  was  very  interested  in  having  the  Book  Club  do 

I  still  think  the  artist 

No  money  in  the  Book  Club,  dear, 
deserves  payment. 


There  are  lots  of  things  that  you'll  never  get  paid  for  anywhere 
else  that  you  could  let  the  Book  Club  do,  and  of  course,  the  Book 
Club  does  beautiful  things. 

They  do  a  beautiful  job. 

But  when  it  comes  to  a  person  who's  still  a  professional — 

I  still  would  like  to  see  a  thing  like  that  done  by  the  Book  Club. 

Well,  it  would  never  get  out  to  the  people, 
small,  tight  membership,  which  keeps  it. 

It  just  gets  to  a 

Well,  that's  true.  But  it  would  be  kind  of  nice. 

I  think  there's  thousands  of  things  done  in  the  twenties,  thirties, 
and  forties  at  the  Grabhorn  Press — like  Mark  Twain's  letter  to  his 
lawyer  and  laundress,  you  know — completely  inconsequential  things. 
And  done  up  by  such  as  John  Henry  Nash  in  expensive  style. 

We  don't  have  very  many  Nash  things,  you  know. 

No.   I  thought  he  was  terrible;  a  fake.  Grabhorn  was  one  of  the 
greatest  printers  that  ever  lived.   But  if  you  were  very  wealthy, 
you  could  say,  "Well,  sure,  we'll  let  the  Book  Club  do  it,  and  give 
it  as  a  keepsake."  But  I'd  like  to  see  that  Taos  book  done  as  a 
facsimile  by  the  Morgans,  and  I  bet  they'd  sell  twenty-five  thousand 
copies.   And  the  people  would  see  it,  and  I'd  make  some  money.   I'm 
getting  along.   I  have  to  begin  to  make  some  money  and  salt  it 
away,  so  I  can — afford  the  papers  that  have  my  reviews  in  them. 

I  have  plenty  of  things  that  we  could  do.   I  have  early  pictures 
of  the  Sierra  Club,  camp  pictures,  and  groups  of  the  early  people, 
and  little  episodes — ideal  Book  Club  stuff.   I  mean,  if  I  was  just  to 
give  my  reminiscences  of  John  Henry  Nash — well  here's  the  thing:   the 
Taos  book  [Taos  Pueblo] .   Bender  had  gotten  John  Henry  Nash  to  agree 
to  do  it.   Bender  said,  "I'll  subsidize  it."  I  went  over  to  see 


Adams:     Nash  and  he  said,  "Well,  I've  got  the  end-papers  for  it,"  which 
were  a  great  big  stack  of  Spanish  parchment — you  know,  Gregorian 
chant  music  sheets! 

"But,"  I  said,  "Mr.  Nash,  Taos  is  Indian,  not  Spanish." 
"Pueblo,  pueblo — that's  Spanish."  [Laughter] 

So  I  went  back  to  Albert  and  I  said,  "This  is  hopeless.   This 

guy  doesn't  know  what  he's  talking  about.  We  can't  have  a  Gregorian 

chant  as  the  end-paper."  He  said,  "Well,  I  guess  we'd  better  talk 
to  old  Grab." 

Then  there  was  a  very  interesting  episode  there,  because  [Edwin] 
Grabhorn  did  not  print  that  big  a  spread  as  a  unit.   He  printed  them 
this  side  and  that  side,  and  for  some  reason  they  weren't  lined  up. 
And  so  when  Hazel  Dreis  begins  to  bind  it,  she  finds  that  the  pages 
are  misaligned;  they  will  not  be  parallel  in  the  binding,  you  see. 

V.  Adams:   Does  that  show?  Or  was  she  able  to  correct  it? 

Adams:     Oh,  you  couldn't  do  it.   Grabhorn  said,  "Why,  this  is  absolutely 
crazy.   It  is  absolutely  accurate."  She  laid  them  out,  and  he'd 
made  them  a  quarter  of  an  inch  off.  Well,  this  wouldn't  do  Grabhorn 
any  good.   We  just  had  enough  paper  left  to  print  it.  And  he  sent 
it  to  another  and  larger  press  [William  Eveleth's]  and  sat  over  its 

But  even  the  greatest  people,  you  know,  can  make  terrible  faux 
pas.   And  he  had  never  printed  anything  bigger  than  what  the  press 
would  take.   So  he  thought  that  if  he  fed  this  in,  then  reversed  it — 
not  a  really  work  and  turn  system,  but  a  reversal.  And  it  wasn't 
aligned.   So  you  have  to  imagine  that  as  the  pages  became  misaligned 
the  misalignment  would  accumulate  in  the  binding! 

And  poor  Hazel!   I  remember  the  perspiration  on  her  forehead. 
She  said,  "I  can't  bind  it.   There's  no  way  to  bind  it.   They  don't 
pull.   I'd  have  to  cut  every  sheet,  and  put  them  in  and  correct 
them,  and  that  would  cut  down  the  sheet  size."  And  she  was 
absolutely  right. 

Teiser:    Was  the  book  itself  a  great  success? 

Adams:  Oh  yes.  Sold  out,  and  it's  worth  a  fortune  now.  I  don't  know  what 
it's  worth.  You'd  get  a  thousand,  two  thousand,  anything  you  want. 
One  of  the  rarest  books  there  is. 

Harroun:    It's  a  beautiful  book. 

Adams:     It  sold  for  seventy- five  dollars,  I  think. 


Teiser:    But  then,  on  top  of  that  great  success,  you  turned  your  back  on 
that  type  of  photography? 

Adams:     On  that  type  of  pictorial  image.   I  didn't  exactly  turn  my  back  on 
it,  but  I  changed.   Now  the  difficulty  is — and  this  is  a  very 
important  thing — I  can't  make  what  I  call  satisfactory  prints  from 
most  of  those  negatives,  because  they  were  made  for  another  process. 
That  was  empirical  in  approach.   I  didn't  know  what  I  was  really 
doing  in  those  days.   It  was  all  by  trial  and  error.   And  I  can 
print  the  "Woman  Winnowing  Grain,"  and  the  "Ranches  de  Taos  Church" 
and  maybe  one  or  two  others — like  the  New  Church — I  can  print  those 
well  now.   The  others  I  just  can't  print  on  the  modern  papers. 
They're  not  sharp  enough;  they're  not  decisive.   That's  why  just 
printing  the  Taos  book  again  wouldn't  work.   But  if  you  made 
facsimile  pictures — took  them  to  an  engraver  to  make  a  facsimile 
plate — and  did  it  as  a  reprint,  in  a  smaller  format — it  could  be 
very  nice,  I  think.   It's  in  the  public  domain  now,  so  anybody  can 
do  it. 

Teiser:    You  didn't  copyright  it? 

Adams:     It's  copyrighted,  but  the  copyright  only  runs  twenty-eight  years. 

Teiser:    And  you  can't  renew  it  now? 

Adams:     No,  no.   In  fact  The  Land  of  Little  Rain  is  in  the  public  domain, 

and  John  Muir's  writing.   You  could  do  a  book  of  The  Land  of  Little 
Rain.   You  could  do  it  by  etchings  or  drawings  or  photographs — 
anything  you  want. 

Teiser:    That  was  published  in  1950.  How  did  you  happen  to  decide  to  do  it? 

Adams:     Well,  this  meant  so  much  to  Mary  Austin.   I  loved  the  country  and 

I  had  so  many  pictures  of  it.   I'd  like  to  do  that  book  again;  most 
of  those  pictures  could  be  much  better  reproduced.   Because  I  think 
that's  quite  an  impressive  book.   There  are  lots  of  things  I  could 
add  to  it. 

Teiser:    Were  many  of  the  photographs  taken  before,  or  were  they  done  for 
this  purpose? 

Adams:     Well,  they  couldn't  be  done  after  the  book  was  published!   They  all 
had  to  be  done  before.   But  for  ten  years  we  thought  about  it.   As 
I  say,  the  text  was  public — after  her  death.  And  the  heirs  have 
no  right  to  it.   In  fact,  if  there  were  any  heirs  you  should 
ethically  advise  them  you  were  going  to  do  it,  but  there  aren't 
any.   That's  an  ethical  point.   Say  that  Ella  Young  had  done  a  book 
of  poems ,  and  I  wanted  to  take  the  poems  and  make  photographs  for 
them,  I  wouldn't  have  to  pay  anybody  anything.   But  still,  you  would 


Adams:     feel,  ethically,  that  perhaps  her  heirs  would  have  some  rights,  so 
you'd  make  a  token  payment.   You'd  put  something  in  there  for  them. 
But  you  can't  do  it  in  royalty.   That's  a  personal  decision.   It 
does  not  have  to  be  done. 

Teiser:    The  work  on  The  Land  of  Little  Rain,  then,  was  done  over  a  period 
of  years — your  photographs? 

Adams:     Oh  yes.  Many  photographs  over  a  long  time.   And  I've  done  things 
since  then  of  the  same  areas. 

More  Southwest  Friends  and  Experiences 

Teiser:    You  met  John  Marin  in  1929,  according  to  Mrs.  Newhall. 
Adams:     That's  right.   At  Mabel's. 
Teiser:    Had  you  known  his  work  before? 

Adams:     Oh,  very  slightly.   He  was  a  funny  little  man.   He  was  very  shy, 

mouse-like.   And  I  met  him  first  in  a  bare  room;  he  was  laying  out 
paintings,  and  they  were  absolutely  beautiful.   It  was  obvious  he 
didn't  want  to  talk.   And  then  you've  read  Nancy's  thing  about  the 
piano  [in  The  Eloquent  Light].   Well,  after  that  we  got  along  fine. 
But  I  know  that  Marin  would  go  out  and  would  sit  around  for  two  or 
three  weeks  never  doing  anything,  just  looking  around  at  the 
country  and  then  suddenly  distilling  it,  and  in  one  morning  doing 
ten,  fifteen,  or  more  watercolors — using  brush,  fingers,  thumb, 
everything — just  pouring  these  things  out.   I  think  he's  one  of 
the  greatest  artists  we've  ever  had. 

[Interruption — discussion  of  details  of  coming  exhibit  at 
Metropolitan  Museum] 

Adams:     Let  me  see,  there  are  some  things  in  New  Mexico — Well,  much  later 
I  did  a  series  of  pictures  for  the  Boy  Scout  Camp  at  Cimarron. 
That  was  left  by  a  very  wealthy  man,  who  was  a  parody  of  rightist 
virtue.   But  it  was  a  very  moving  thing,  and  a  very  distressing 
thing,  in  a  way,  to  see  busloads  come  in  from  all  over  the  country, 
disgorging  these  kids  who'd  never  been  anywhere  with  any  mountains. 
Cimarron 's  is  a  low  place  in  the  Sangre  de  Cristos,  east  of  the 

They  would  set  up  their  pup  tents,  and  they'd  have  to  go 
through  all  the  Boy  Scout  rituals.   And  then  they'd  be  taken  out 
on  trips.  Unfortunately  it's  a  rather  uninteresting  area — it's 
rather  arid.   There's  only  one  peak  that  looks  like  a  peak.   The 


Adams:     rest  of  it's  great  Colorado-type  slopes.   I  stayed  there  for  three 
weeks.   I  liked  the  story,  but  it  was  awfully  difficult,  because 
the  environment  was  so  dry  and  barren. 

Get  a  bunch  of  kids  from  Alabama  and  Rhode  Island  and  dump 
them  out  in  the  wilderness  and  see  what  happens.   It  rains, 
thunders — oh,  it  was  terrifically  stormy,  you  know;  the  worst  hail 
storm  I've  ever  seen  was  in  Cimarron.   I  have  one  gorgeous  photo 
graph  of  a  thunderstorm  and  clearing  clouds,  and  the  wind  was  so 
strong  that  I  had  to  hold  the  eight  by  ten  camera  down.   The 
photograph  isn't  sharp  for  that  reason,  because  it's  vibrating. 
But  we  had  hailstones  right  at  the  Kit  Carson  museum  as  big  as 
golf  balls.   And  this  terrible  roar  begins,  and  I'm  in  this  place, 
and  I  knew  the  car  was  closed  up,  and  I  said,  "Well,  here  goes  the 
old  Cadillac!"  That  radiator  hood  will  go  right  to  the  moon. 
Everything  bounced  off  the  car;  there  wasn't  a  single  dent,  but 
it  killed  crops.   It  did  a  lot  of  crop  damage.   When  you  see  hail 
stones  that  big,  you  get  a  bit  concerned. 

Teiser:    Were  you  photographing  the  kids  too? 
Adams:     The  kids,  the  camp,  and  the  landscape. 
Teiser:    What  was  the  end  result  of  that? 

Adams:     It  came  out  in  the  Boy  Scout  magazine — big  article.   Strictly  a 
professional  job,  and  a  very  difficult  subject  to  photograph. 

In  the  early  days,  Frank  Applegate  and  I  would  tour  all 
around.   We  went  south  of  Albuquerque  and  way  up  into  the  Chama 
Valley,  and  visited  lots  of  places.   And  with  my  ferocious  lack  of 
documentation  ability,  I  just  don't  have  any  real  record  of  it. 
Saw  a  major  part  of  northern  New  Mexico,  and  many  moradas  that  no 
longer  exist. 

The  roads  were  unbelievable.   At  that  time,  the  major 
population  of  the  villages  north  of  Santa  Fe  was  Spanish-American; 
there  was  little  English  spoken.   And  the  Spanish  is  a  very 
interesting  Spanish,  I've  been  told.   It's  a  bastardized 
conquistadore  Spanish  of  four  hundred  years  ago.   They've  had 
scholars  from  all  over  come  and  try  to  study  this  particular 
Spanish  dialect  that's  used.   And  there  were  people  at  Chimayo 
that  had  been  to  Espanola,  twenty  miles  away,  but  had  never  been 
to  Santa  Fe,  thirty  or  forty  miles  away,  in  their  whole  lives. 

I  visited  the  Los  Alamos  school  when  it  was  a  school,  and  it 
was  just  like  a  camp  in  the  high  mountains  with  log  cabins — big 
log  cabin  buildings.   I  can't  remember  the  design.   But  it  was  a 
very  remote  place — a  rather  special  place  for  kids.   This  was 
called  the  Los  Alamos  Ranch  School,  I  think  that  was  the  name. 


Teiser:    The  Los  Alamos  School — was  that  originally  an  Indian  school? 
Adams:     No,  it  was  a  boy's  school. 
Teiser:    Private  boys'  school? 

Adams:     When  the  Manhattan  Project  came  into  being,  they  bought  this 

whole  thing  out;  of  course,  during  the  War  I  think  the  school  had 
closed  down.   Well,  what  they  did  was  to  draw  employees  from  all 
over  the  area,  and  the  brighter  young  people  from  these  villages 
would  go  up  there  and  work.   And  that  disrupted  the  village  life — 
everywhere.   It  created  a  different  economic  picture. 

And  now  the  villages  are  in,  I  would  say,  a  rather  horrible 
state.   Lots  of  delinquency,  vandalism,  nothing  really  going  on, 
nothing  made,  you  know.   Chimayo  is  the  top  place.   They  have 
Chimayo  blankets  and  the  Santuario. 

It's  important  to  say  that  it's  Spanish-American  and  not 
Mexican,  you  see. 

V.  Adams:   They  have  Anglos  and  Spanish-Americans  in  the  Southwest. 

Adams:     And  for  many,  many  years — it  still  is,  I  think — the  government 

documents  in  the  legislature  were  bilingual.   But  as  I  say,  there 
were  many  times  when  Applegate  and  I  would  go  out  to  the  remote 
places  and  there  wasn't  one  person  around  with  whom  we  could  talk 
English.   There  are  a  few  of  the  older  people  remaining. 

V.  Adams:   Santuario  was,  I  thought,  emotionally  very  nice  when  we  went  this 

Adams:     Yes,  it  was  good. 

V.  Adams:   There  were  people  who  went  in  with  their  little  children  into  that 
inner  sanctuary. 

Teiser:    Where  is  that? 

V.  Adams:   Santuario  is  a  place  north  of  Santa  Fe. 

Adams:     It's  called  the  Santuario  de  Chimayo.   Chimayo  is  a  town. 

V.  Adams:   But  the  chapel  has  an  inner  place,  a  little  deep  hole  with  mud  that 
they  feel  is  healing. 

Adams:     The  hole  didn't  seem  much  bigger  forty  years  ago — I  don't  know  what 
they  do.  [Laughs] 


V.  Adans:   But  here  are  these  people — these  Spanish-Americans — coming  there 

from  all  over  the  Southwest  and  taking  their  children  in;  they  all 
brought  back  little  bits  of  mud.   They'd  have  a  paper  bag  or 
something,  I  noticed,  when  they  went  out,  to  take  the  mud  home  in. 

Adams:     I  remember,  the  last  time  I  was  there,  I  happened  to  come  on  a 
very  old  Spanish-American  lady,  and  she  hobbled  in  and  then  she 
touched  all  of  these  things  on  the  railing,  and  altar,  and  gave 
her  Hail  Marys  in  Spanish.   And  boy,  she  had  a  lot  of  stamina! 
She  went  through  that  whole  building  and  out  the  back.   That  was 
her  last  visit — this  was  the  feeling  of  finality.   She  came  from 
a  hundred  miles  south. 

V.  Adams:   Saying  goodbye  to  all  these  things  known  in  her  youth. 

Adams:     Yes.   Most  of  these  people  were  very  provincial,  and  as  I  said, 

many  of  those  people  in  Chimayo  had  never  been  as  far  away  as  Santa 

V.  Adams:   Of  course,  but  that  changed  after  they  had  the  buses  to  go  over 
to  Los  Alamos . 

Adams:     Then,  of  course,  the  whole  thing  blew  up  and  changed.   But  there's 
still  Trampas — 

V.  Adams:   They  still  have  faith  in  these  places,  and  that's  what  was  very 

exciting  to  us.   Beaumont  [Newhall]  said,  too,  it  was  very  touching 
to  him. 

Teiser:    Has  it  changed  greatly  physically — the  country  and  the  buildings? 
V.  Adams:   Fewer  old  wrecks  and  more  tin  roofs. 

Adams:     Very  little;  I  was  amazed.   I  think  it's  still  quite  a  remarkable 

V.  Adams:   It's  beautiful  country. 

Adams:     Canyon  Road  and  Camino  del  Monte  Sol  are  still  pretty  much  like 
they  were  forty  years  ago. 

V.  Adams:   It's  like  here  in  Carmel.   We  want  to  keep  the  artichoke  fields. 

In  Santa  Fe  they  want  to  keep  the  old  things.  They  do  pretty  well. 

Adams:     Albuquerque  is  a  mess,  in  a  way. 
V.  Adams:  Well,  that's  a  big  city  now. 

Adams:     But  where  my  friends  the  Newhalls  live — La  Luz — it's  stunning;  a 
fine  architectural  development. 


V.  Adams:   Modern  adaptation  of  Pueblo  style. 

Adams:     Oh,  it's  beautiful  design — like  nothing  I  know  of,  actually.   You 
can  go  up  to  Santa  Fe  in  less  than  an  hour.  Parts  of  Santa  Fe  are 
commercial,  but  still  there  are  these  old  beautiful  things  to  be 

Teiser:    The  quality  of  the  light  there — is  it  special  still,  or  was  it  ever? 

Adams:     All  of  this  "quality  of  light"  business  is  an  illusion  in  a  sense. 
Santa  Fe  is  at  seven  thousand  feet.   So  you  have  a  different 
intensity — relationship  between  sunlight  and  shadow — because  the 
sky  is  a  deeper  blue,  because  it's  that  high  elevation.   And  the 
reflection  of  the  ground  is  different.   It's  a  little  lighter  than 
in  most  areas  in  the  country,  I  think.   Now  apparently  the  quality 
of  the  light  in  Greece  is  due  to  the  fact  that  there's  water  vapor 
in  the  air  and  there's  a  fairly  soft  light,  and  there's  a  lot  of 
white.   So  you  get  reflections  and  general  illuminations.   It's  a 
very  intangible  thing. 

San  Francisco  has  a  special  light  too.  When  we  test  Polaroid 
film,  we  get  totally  different  results  than  we  do  in  Cambridge. 

Teiser:    Even  though  all  measurements  are  the  same? 

Adams:     The  measurements  are  not  the  same,  that's  it.   If  you  design  a 

film  for  a  camera  for  somebody  to  make  a  snapshot,  and  you  design 
it  for  Cambridge  and  Boston,  for  many  days  of  the  year  you're 
going  to  have  a  different  quality  than  if  you  design  it  for  San 
Francisco  or  Santa  Fe. 

Teiser:    What  do  you  do  then? 

Adams:     Well,  this  is  one  of  the  great  problems.   I  mean,  you  get  more 

contrast.   Out  here,  we  always  have — of  course,  today's  a  fog  day — 
I  mean  this  is  a  gray  day,  but  this  is  a  purer  gray  than  you  get  in 
Boston  or  Cambridge,  because  there  would  be  smog  mixed  with  it 
there.  You'd  get  a  little  yellower  light  there.  This  is  very 
neutral  light  now.   So,  it's  a  matter — well,  if  you  want  to  be 
technical  about  it,  it's  a  matter  of  Kelvin  degrees  color 
temperature.   As  you  go  into  higher  altitudes,  you  get  a  higher 
and  higher  Kelvin.   The  sun  is  a  little  brighter,  the  sky  is  a 
little  bluer,  and  the  shadows,  of  course,  are  much  bluer,  because 
they  reflect  from  the  deeper  blue  sky. 

Then  you  get  to  a  water  vapor  atmosphere,  like  the  tropics  or 
Florida  or  the  east  coast,  and  you  have  a  lower  Kelvin,  and  you 
have  a  little  warmer  shadows — a  softer  luminance  range.   There's 
nothing  mystic  about  it. 


Adams:     But  Santa  Fe  gives  you  the  feeling  of  being  on  top  of  the  world. 

It's  at  seven  thousand  feet,  like  Mexico  City.  Albuquerque's  five 
thousand  feet.   So  there  is  a  fundamental  difference.   There's  less 
atmosphere — I  think  one- third  less — for  the  sunlight  to  go  through. 
You're  getting  about  one-third  the  oxygen,  maybe  a  little  less. 

That's  why  some  people  have  trouble.   The  ballet  came,  you 
know,  to  Santa  Fe  for  a  performance.   The  previous  performance  they 
gave  was,  I  think,  in  Dallas,  and  then  they  were  flown  to  Albuquerque 
and  came  up  to  Santa  Fe  and,  without  acclimatization,  gave  their 
performance.   They  just  collapsed,  were  actually  falling  down  on 
stage.  Here  they  were  going  to  the  extreme  of  physical  effort 
which  was  all  right  under  normal  conditions,  but  at  seven  thousand 
feet  they  couldn't  do  it. 

And  Stravinsky,  when  I  saw  him  and  heard  him  conduct  his 
Persephone  at  Santa  Fe,  was  really- exhausted.   But  they  warned  him; 
he'd  been  there  about  a  week  trying  to  get  acclimated. 

I  get  acclimated  very  quickly.   I've  been  so  used  to  altitudes. 
You  know,  twelve  thousand,  ten,  Yosemite,  sea  level,  back  and  forth. 
It  took  me  a  little  longer  this  time  in  Albuquerque — a  couple  of 
days.   I  can  "pick  up"  very  quickly.   But  a  lot  of  people  have  an 
awful  time  at  high  altitudes. 

Teiser:    Is  there  smog  there  now  that  you  didn't  see  before? 

Adams:     Yes,  there  is.   There's  natural  smog  in  Albuquerque,  because  that's 
a  rather  big  city.   But  the  worst  thing  comes  from  the  Four  Corners 
power  plant.   They're  coal  stripping.   They've  got  one  plant; 
they're  going  to  have  five.  And  the  one  already  puts  pollution 
out  which  is  seen  in  the  Rio  Grande  Valley  all  the  way  to 
Albuquerque.   And  Durango,  and  the  Colorado — 

V.  Adams:   That's  why  they  fight  strip  mining. 

Adams:     It's  a  terrible  thing.   In  fact — well,  it's  not  that  strip  mining 
isn't  bad  enough,  but  it's  the  fact  that  they've  absolutely  spent 
no  money  in  smog  control.   They  say  they  have,  but  when  you  see  the 
smog  coming  down,  for  the  first  time,  to  Taos,  Santa  Fe,  and 
Albuquerque,  you  know  that  there's  trouble.   There  are  going  to  be 
five  plants.   It  will  be  the  largest  single  power  producing  area, 
but  I  don't  know  what  they're  going  to  do  when  they  run  out  of  coal. 
They've  drilled  deep  and  gotten  the  beautiful  spring  water,  which  is 
the  clearest  water  in  the  country,  which  it  is  assumed  feeds  the 
Hopi  Springs,  and  they're  using  that  to  sluice  the  coal. 

So  the  whole  Southwest  may  be  degenerating  to  a  point  where  it 
really  will  be  lost  to  us  forever. 


V.  Adams: 

V.  Adams: 

Better  enjoy  it  while  you  can. 

Teiser : 

V.  Adams: 
Adams : 

Yes.   An  unhappy  desert, 
there's  so  many  people, 

It's  very  serious.   But  that's  because 
But  who  wants  genocide?   I'd  rather  have 

Well,  can  you  think  of  anything  else  for  Santa  Fe?  Did  you  tell 
them  the  story  of  when  you  got  tight,  and  what  Mary  Austin  said? 

Oh  yes.   There  was  a  big  party  at  Witter  Bynner's  one  night,  and 
I  drove  Mary  Austin  over.   And  then  I  got  to  saying,  because  I  had 
some  consciousness  left,  "Well,  who's  going  to  get  Mary  Austin 
home?  I  can't  drive."  I  was  very  concerned  that  somebody  get 
Mary  Austin  home. 

The  next  morning  I  said,  "Well,  Mary,  I  guess  I  lost  my 
reputation  last  night."  And  she  said,  "You  certainly  did.   But 
you  lost  it  so  quickly  that  nobody  missed  it."  [Laughter] 

I  think  I  read  in  Mrs.  Newhall's  book  that  Ella  Young  was 
encouraging  you  to  continue  writing  poetry. 

Which  he  did. 

Oh  yes,  she  did.   Because  I  wrote  very  romantic  poetry,  and  then 
suddenly  burst  out  into  very  avant-garde  poetry,  and  then  quit. 
But  I  studied  a  great  deal  of  literature  and  I  was  pretty  good  on 
the  sonnet. 

Teiser:    You  write  good  prose  too. 

Adams:     Well,  I  never  should  be  known  as  a  poet. 

Teiser:    Did  Ella  Young  succeed  in  encouraging  you?  Did  you  write  more 
poetry  as  a  result  of  her  encouragement? 

Adams:     No.   She  said  I  looked  like  Yeats,  and  she  thought  I  could  write 
like  Yeats — not  to  look  like  him,  but  write  at  a  certain  level. 
But  that  was  not  something  which  was  accepted.   Well,  if  I  didn't 
have  music  and  photography,  who  knows?   I  might  have  done  a 
cookbook.  [Laughter] 

I  remember  one  time  coming  back  from  a  party  at  Witter  Bynner's 
very  late,  and  it  was  quite  a  party.   In  the  morning  I  go  out  and  I 
find  a  flat  tire,  and  I  open  the  trunk  of  the  little  Marmon  we  had, 
and  here  is  one  of  Bynner's  guests  all  curled  up  fast  asleep.  Of 
course,  somebody 'd  put  him  in  there  when  he  was  very  tight,  and  why 
he  didn't  suffocate  I  don't  know.   It  was  a  horrifying  experience 
to  see  this  body  in  this  trunk!  [Laughter]   I  pulled  him  out,  and  he 
was  breathing,  and  he  said,  "Where  am  I?"   I  said,  "Well — " 


V.  Adams:   Horrible! 

Adams:     Yes.   That  was  really  quite  a  story. 

Teiser:    Maynard  Dixon  spent  some  time  in  the  Southwest.   That  was  not  at 
the  same  time? 

V.  Adams:  He  was  in  Tucson.   I  don't  know  that  he  was  in  Santa  Fe,  particularly. 

Adams:  Tucson  is  another  story. 

Teiser:  When  were  you  there? 

V.  Adams:  We  visited  Maynard  and  Edie. 

Adams:  Maynard  and  Edie  [Edith  Hamlin]  Dixon. 

Teiser:  That  was  later. 

Adams:     I  did  some  work  for  Kodak  in  Phoenix,  and  then  went  to  Tucson  for 
the  Guggenheim  project  to  do  the  Saguaro  National  Monument,  you 
know — the  cactus  forest.   And  then  our  very  dear  friends  Maynard 
and  Edie  Dixon  were  there. 

Now  Edie  is  one  who  can  tell  you  a  lot — Mrs.  Maynard  Dixon. 
Edith  Hamlin  now.  And  she  could  tell  you  a  lot  about  me  because 
we're  old,  old  friends. 

Oh  boy.   Can't  think  of  anything  else. 

Harroun:   Did  you  know  Georgia  O'Keeffe  before?  Or  did  you  meet  her  down 

Adams:     I  met  her  down  there.   And  then  of  course  we  got  to  know  her  really 
well  in  New  York  after  1933. 

V.  Adams:  Stieglitz,  you  know,  gave  Ansel  an  exhibit  in  his  rooms  [An  American 
Place]  there.  He'd  practically  given  up  doing  anything  with  anybody 
new.  But  that  would  be  a  long  story. 

Adams:     The  New  York  story's  another  story  entirely. 
[End  Tape  8,  Side  1] 

[Interview  VII  —  27  May  1972] 
[Begin  Tape  8,  Side  2] 

Teiser:    We  were  speaking  of  the  Santa  Fe  period.   You  mentioned  several 

times  A.R.  Orage,  who  seems  to  have  been  a  most  fascinating  person, 
and  I  know  very  little  about  him. 


Adams:     Well,  I  didn't  know  too  much  about  him.   I  met  him  in  San 

Francisco.   He  had  been  in  New  Mexico.   He  was  a  disciple  of 

Teiser:    I  didn't  even  realize  he'd  been  in  America  very  much.   Did  he  live 
here  in  the  later  years  of  his  life? 

Adams:  For  awhile  he  was  here,  yes.  I  really  can't  tell  you  any  more  than 
that.  Some  mystically-minded  people  are  very  much  surprised.  They 
say,  "You  know  Orage!"  Orage  was  a  guru,  I  guess,  to  many  people. 

Teiser:    Yes. 

Adams:     He  was  also  a  provocative  discussionist,  if  you  want  to  use  the 

Teiser:    What  did  he  look  like? 

Adams:     He  looked  like  a  British  orchestra  conductor.  [Laughs]   He  was 
smooth  shaven.   I  can't  exactly  remember  just  what  he  did  look 
like.   He  was  rather  intense.  He  had  a  very  literary  air  about 
him,  but  he  also  had  a  self-assured  manner. 

Teiser:    He  was  apparently  rather  well  known  for  having  edited  a  literary 
review  in  London. 

Adams:     Yes. 

Teiser:    Was  he  interested  in  photography,  or  all  the  arts? 

Adams:     I  guess  just  in  general.   I  can't  remember.   I  did  a  picture  of  him; 
not  a  very  good  one. 

Teiser:    Did  he  live  in  San  Francisco  for  a  time,  or  did  he  just  come  and  go? 

Adams:     I  think  he  visited — a  month  maybe;  came  to  the  University  at  Berkeley 
and  Stanford,  visiting  and  lecturing.   It's  hard  to  remember  the 

Let's  see,  about  Santa  Fe,  I've  been  back  quite  often,  and  last 
time,  I  had  a  good  visit  with  Beaumont  and  Nancy  Newhall,  and 
appeared  with  Beaumont's  group  at  the  University,  and  then  gave  a 
talk  at  the  Art  Museum  in  Santa  Fe;  and  of  course  I'm  a  great  friend 
of  Laura  Gilpin's,  the  photographer. 

Teiser:    Is  she  still  photographing? 

Adams:     Oh  yes,  she  just  got  a  grant  to  do  a  book  on  the  Navajos  in  the 

Canyon  de  Chelly.   She's  eighty-three,  and  still  gets  around  with 
a  cane  and  a  little  arthritis.   Perhaps  you  saw  that  wonderful 


Adams:     picture  of  both  of  us  when  we  met  at  the  museum — by  a  news 

photographer — giving  each  other  a  smack,  and  we  were  laughing. 
It  came  out  on  the  front  page  of  the  Herald ,  the  Albuquerque 

Teiser:    Was  the  Taos  book — the  success  of  it — a  factor  in  your  decision  to 
make  photography  your  profession  then? 

Adams:     I  think  it  was.   But  of  course  I  changed  my  style;  but  it  did  have 
success.   And  Stieglitz  was  very  much  impressed  with  it.   It  was 
one  of  these  things  that  sort  of  proved  quality.  You  see,  one  of 
my  objectives  is  to  maintain  a  very  high  image  quality,  both  in  the 
originals  and  in  reproduction.   So  I  have  been  quite  influential  in 
getting  the  reproduction  of  fine  prints  paid  more  attention  to. 

The  Reproduction  of  Photographs 

Adams:     We  did  develop,  I  think,  some  of  the  finest  reproductions  in  the 
world  in  San  Francisco  with  the  Walter  [J.]  Mann  Company.   Mr. 
[Raymond]  Peterson  was  the  engraver.   And  that  was  for  the  letter 
press  process. 

Now  you  have  several  processes:   intaglio  and  raised  dot,  and 
there's  callotype  and  gravure.   But  the  half-tone  process  means 
that  the  image  is  broken  down  into  dots  of  so  many  per  inch  usually 
lined  up  at  90°  but  not  necessarily.  And  in  letterpress  these  dots 
stand  up  like  little  mushrooms;  they  are  like  type. 

Teiser:    Your  interest  in  printing  is  a  subject  that  we've  got  notes  on. 
I  came  across  an  article  by  Francis  Farquhar  in  Touring  Tropics, 
February  1931,  in  which  you  had  a  lot  of  photographs — a  whole 
section  of  photographs  in  sepia  on  brownish  paper.   Do  you  remember 

Adams:     Yes.   That's  probably  rotogravure. 

Teiser:    Yes.   The  article  was  "Mountain  Studies  in  the  Sierra."  In  the 
introduction  Mr.  Farquhar  said,  "From  the  beginning  of  his 
professional  career,  he  has  closely  associated  photography  with  the 
other  graphic  arts,  especially  printing.   In  selecting  the  process 
for  an  individual  picture,  he  keeps  in  mind  not  only  the  quality 
of  the  negative  and  the  photographic  print,  but  also  the  relation 
ship  of  the  picture  to  its  ultimate  surroundings.   It  is  this 
comprehension  of  kindred  arts  that  has  made  Ansel  Adams  so  success 
ful  an  illustrator." 

You  had  then  long  had  an  interest  in  printing? 


Adams:     Oh  yes.   Through  Albert  Bender  I  knew  many  of  the  printers.   I  had 
tried  various  reproduction  processes  and  made  some  study  of  it.   At 
that  time,  the  so-called  offset  was  a  very  bad  process  of  very  poor 
quality.   The  letterpress  was  the  finest.   Of  course,  you  could  get 
gravure,  but  gravure  is  very  tricky.   It  is  an  intaglio  process. 
It  was  expensive  and  it  wasn't  really  too  accurate. 

This  is  the  American  Earth  and  Cedric  Wright's  book,  for 
instance,  were  done  with  that  process,  and  it's  really  not  too  good. 

Teiser:    Was  that  sheet-fed  gravure  done  by  Charles  Wood? 

Adams:     Yes.   Well,  no,  Charles  Wood  was  much  better  than  that.   This  was 
the  Photogravure  and  Color  Corporation  of  New  York.   Charles  Wood 
was  very  good,  but  I  think  he  realized  that  there  were  problems, 
because  the  scale  of  gravure — certain  tones  had  a  tendency  to  "jump" 
around  the  middle  values;  they'd  go  higher  or  lower  in  tone.   And 
the  whites  had  a  tendency  to  block. 

Now,  Stieglitz's  gravures  that  appeared  in  Camera  Work  were 
hand-done,  and  each  one  was  put  through  the  press  and  watched  and 
made  like  a  fine  print.   It  must  have  been  a  very  costly  process. 

Teiser:    I  remember  the  Grabhorns  used  to  use  Meriden  Gravure. 

Adams:     Yes.   Well,  that  was  one  of  the  worst  going  for  any  continuous-tone 
image.   They  could  use  it  for  etching  or  a  litho  or  woodblock,  and 
they  were  really  beautiful.   But  when  it  came  to  the  continuous 
tone  of  the  photograph,  it  was  just  awful.   The  reproduction  looked 
like  putty;  it  couldn't  hold  photographic  values  at  all. 

Teiser:    You're  speaking  of  Meriden? 

Adams:     Meriden.   Grabhorn  did  a  lot  of  reproductions  that  weren't  from 

photographs.   He  really  didn't  like  photographs.*  Whenever  he  made 
a  reproduction  of  a  photograph  it  was  terrible,  because  he  always 
did  it  with  some  kind  of  a  soft  process  on  rag  paper.   A  photograph 
needs  a  smooth  surface.   But  the  etching  and  the  lithography,  etc., 
Meriden  would  do  beautifully  I 

*See  interview  with  Edwin  Grabhorn,  Recollections  of  the  Grabhorn 
Press,  Regional  Oral  History  Office,  The  Bancroft  Library, 
University  of  California,  1968,  pp.  59-60,  and  interview  with 
Robert  Grabhorn,  Fine  Printing  and  the  Grabhorn  Press,  Regional 
Oral  History  Office,  The  Bancroft  Library,  University  of  California, 
1968,  pp.  54-58. 


Adams : 

Adams : 

Adams : 


Adams : 

Then  of  course,  as  I  say,  the  letterpress,  the  three-color  letter 
press,  is  the  great  Bruehl-Bruges  process  you  see  in  the  old 
Vanity  Fair  magazine — that  was  really  four-color  where  the  red 
plate  is  used  as  black  plate  as  well  and  strengthens  the  image. 
If  you  look  at  a  color  picture  with  a  microscope,  you  see  that  the 
colors  rotate  at  certain  angles.   It  looks  like  a  mosaic.   Those 
of  course  were  of  the  raised  dot.   But  you  get  down  to  a  minimum 
dot  size,  beyond  which  it's  just  collapsible  and  it  won't  stand  up 
in  the  press.   I  think  people  don't  realize  that  all  the  dots  have 
the  same  density  of  value.   It's  only  the  area  of  the  dots  in 
relation  to  the  white  space  that  gives  the  fractional  tones. 

What's  the  highest  screen  you  have  used? 

Well,  the  one  that  gave  us  the  best  results  of  all  was  the  133-line 
screen.   Now  that  didn't  give  as  much  definition,  if  you  look  very 
closely.   It's  only  1/133  of  an  inch;  one  hundred  thirty-three 
lines  to  an  inch.   The  deep  tones  wouldn't  block  up.   And  if  you 
stop  to  think  about  what  happens,  if  you  have  no  dots  you  have  pure 
white  paper,  then  if  you  suddenly  jump  to  a  dot  you  get  a  "contour 
line."  What  is  called  "highlighting  in  the  forehead" — as  sometimes 
you  see  it — shows  abruptly  no  tone  to  tone. 

Then  when  you  get  into  the  two-plate  offset,  then  you  have  a 
very  much  finer  progression  of  values. 

It's  two  blacks? 

It's  two  "blacks."  And  it's  called  duotone  because  at  one  time 
people  used  color  in  one  of  the  plates,  and  an  awful  color  could 
result.   But  if  it's  two  plates — two  blacks — one  black  ink  may  be 
slightly  warm  or  cold  in  tone.  And  then  they  can  make  exposures 
of  "long  range"  and  "short  range"  and  the  two  plates  together  will 
hold  a  greater  range.   And  that's  the  system  used  now.   The  letter 
press  is  practically  a  lost  art. 

Walter  Mann,  whom  we  interviewed*  and  have  known  for  many  years,  of 
course  took  great  pride  in  having  done  work  on  your  photographs. 

Oh,  he  did  a  beautiful  job  on  the  plates. 

Everyone  has  said  you  had  your  own  specifications, 
are  very  careful,  aren't  you? 

I  imagine  you 

*See  interview  with  Walter  J.  Mann,  Photoengraving,  1910-1969, 
Regional  Oral  History  Office,  The  Bancroft  Library,  University  of 
California,  1974. 


Adams:     Well,  I  tried!  There's  two  ways:  you  try  to  make  the  print  which 
will  fit  the  process,  because  the  negative  that  the  engraver  makes 
has  to  be  through  a  screen.   He  gets  his  negative  in  screen  form. 
In  other  words,  if  you  look  at  it  in  a  magnifying  glass  you  see 
the  dots  of  varying  size.  And  that  gives  a  certain  limitation  in 
his  exposure  scale.   It  goes  to  a  maximum  of  1.4,  1.5  on  the  scale. 
My  prints  go  up  to  2.0+  on  the  log  scale:  more  than  a  hundred  to 
one  arithmetically.   If  I  want  to  make  a  print  for  an  engraver,  he 
tells  me,  "I  want  the  print  value  to  be  1.4  and  I  can  handle  it." 
He  can  intensify  the  blacks.  He  can  increase  the  contrast.  But  if 
the  print  range  goes  beyond  the  range  of  his  film,  he  cannot  hold 
the  textures  in  high  and  low  values.   The  whites  go  bleak,  block 
out,  or  the  blacks  block  up,  or  both! 

Teiser:    When  your  prints  were  being  reproduced  by  letterpress,  did  you 
always  see  the  proofs? 

Adams:     Oh  yes.   I'd  try  to  make  the  prints  the  way  they'd  want  them. 
Then  they'd  pull  a  proof.   The  letterpress  engravers  had  the 
advantage  of  being  able  to  selectively  "etch"  the  high  values. 
And  we  would  work  for  sort  of  gray-whites  to  get  all  the  values 
therein,  and  then  "etch"  them;  it  raises  them  up  to  the  optimum 

Teiser:    That  was  where  Peterson  came  in? 

Adams:     Yes.   He  was  wonderful  in  that;  a  very  sensitive  craftsman! 

There's  a  very  amusing  story  when  we  were  doing  the  Edward 
Weston  book,  My  Camera  on  Point  Lobos.   Body  [Warren],  Edward's 
assistant,  was  watching  everything  with  a  hawk  eye.   She  went  down 
to  the  plant  one  day,  and  there  was  this  rather  interesting  picture — 
it  was  just  sand  and  rock.   And  she  said,  "Well,  Mr.  Peterson,  I 
don't  think  you  got  this  one!   It's  really  flat.   It's  original 
sparkle  is  gone.   I  think  we'll  have  to  do  that  again."  And  he 
said,  "Well,  Dody,  you're  looking  at  the  original  print."   [Laughter] 
He  actually  improved  it.   He  made  this  image  come  to  life.   The 
original  print  was  a  little  soft;  Edward  made  it  that  way.   She 
thought  that  was  the  engraving,  and  that  didn't  remind  her  of  the 
print.   But  here  was  the  reproduction,  which  was  beautiful  in  tone. 
That's  really  one  of  the  memorable  moments! 

Teiser:    Well,  do  you  make  a  different  print  for  reproduction  than  you  do 
for  exhibit? 

Adams:     Oh  yes.  You  have  to.   In  fact,  when  the  prints  are  in  the  solution 
they  always  look  brighter  and  lighter  than  when  they're  dry.  And 
papers  don't  all  behave  the  same,  so  you  have  to  learn  how  to  use 
them.  Then  you  have  to  say,  "This  is  going  to  be  reproduced  and 


Adams:     I've  got  to  keep  it  within  the  scale."  That's  why  I  have  a 

reflection  densitometer.   I  can  check  to  see  that  I  haven't  over 
printed.   Underprinting  I  don't  worry  about  too  much.   I'll  show 
you  something  very  interesting — [Walks  away  and  voice  trails  off. 
Returns.]   These  are  proofs  of  a  monograph  that  Morgan  &  Morgan  are 
doing.*  These  are  good  proofs.  These  are  to  be  printed  in  New 
York.   The  one  of  the  tombstone  is  fantastic.   This  portrait  is  a 
little  too  dark,  see.   Now  we'll  tell  them  they  made  that  too  dark. 
They  have  to  make  another  plate.   The  face  is  too  dark,  the  shirt 
is  perfect.  My  print  is  all  right  in  this  case. 

This  one  is  one  of  the  most  extraordinary  reproductions  I've 
ever  seen.   They  kept  the  pure  white  and  all  the  details  on  blacks. 
But  that  was  a  soft  print.   This  was  a  flat  print  which  they 
expanded.   And  they  did  beautifully  on  these,  except  this  one  was  a 
flat  print,  and  they  overdid  the  expansionl 

Teiser:    Is  that  the  Golden  Gate  one  you  were  speaking  of  yesterday? 

Adams:     Yes.   This  one  before  the  bridge.   But  you  see,  this  is  good;  this 
is  excellent,  beautiful.   This  is  a  beautiful  thing. 

But  here's  where  I  told  the  engraver  to  expand  the  contrasts, 
but  he  overdid  it  a  little.   They'll  have  to  learn — so  do  l!   I'll 
have  to  give  them  prints  that  are  a  little  stronger.   Psychologically, 
this  is  a  warm  tone,  and  here's  a  cold  tone,  and  you  see  it's  just 
terrible;  loses  all  life,  distance;  but  from  the  same  plate! 

We're  not  going  to  make  it  quite  as  brown  as  that.   To  show 
what  I  mean,  this  is  just  as  clear,  but  it  has  no  life.   Now,  for 
instance,  just  look  at  the  aspens — 

Teiser:    My  word! 

Adams:     So,  the  psychological  effect  of  color,  well  that's  the  thing  you  have 
to  know  about.   Talk  to  them.   With  engravers  and  most  printers,  it's 
the  same  general  thing.   It's  a  terrible  thing,  to  have  someone  who 
doesn't  know  anything  about  quality  come  in  and  make  remarks!   If 
you  can  give  them  a  constructive  pattern,  all  may  be  well. 

Teiser:    Did  you  do  that  when  Lawton  Kennedy  was  printing  your  work? 

Adams:     Oh  yes,  we'd  watch  everything.   Crocker  was  very  good  that  way. 

They  really  printed  very  carefully,  and  they  watched  the  press  runs. 

*De  Cock,  Liliane,  ed.   Ansel  Adams.   New  York:  Morgan  &  Morgan,  1972. 


Adams:     It  would  come  off  the  press  rather  fast,  and  the  printer  was 
anxious  to  get  it  right.   You  see,  in  letterpress  many  things 
affect  the  result.   The  "makeready"  has  to  be  changed,  and  the  ink 
may  change.   With  offset,  once  it's  set  up,  it  goes  through  very 
fast;  so  you  sit  there,  and  they  put  a  sheet  in,  and  they  run  many 
sheets  and  then  you  study  the  inking,  and  once  they've  got  it, 
there's  nothing  else  you  can  do.   And  if  that  plate  isn't  what  it 
ought  to  be,  it's  pulled  off  and  made  over. 

Now,  gravure  is  on  a  copper  plate.   And  in  the  American  Earth 
book,  there  were  "four  up,"  four  pages  on  a  side  of  a  sheet.   And 
if  you  changed  one  letter  of  that,  it  cost  seven  hundred  dollars 
because  you  had  to  change  the  whole  plate.   But  with  letterpress, 
you'd  just  lift  out  the  plate,  or  the  line  of  type;  the  corrections 
were  simple. 

I  had  contact  with  Albert  Bender  and  all  the  printers  and  the 
Roxburghe  Club,  and  many  reproducing  processes.   So  from  the  very 
beginning  that's  been  very  important  to  me  and  my  work. 

Teiser:    On  the  University  of  California  book,  Fiat  Lux,  wasn't  that 

originally  to  be  done  by  sheet-fed  gravure  by  Charles  R.  Wood? 

Adams:     That  was  originally  planned,  and  it  was  done  by  Wood,  for 

Doubleday.  You  see,  the  University  Press  couldn't  print  it.   It 
was  planned  to  have  286  pages,  but  Reagan  got  in  as  governor  and 
there  was  too  much  economy  imposed,  and  everybody  at  the  University 
was  scared  to  print  it,  so  they  turned  it  over  to  a  publisher.   And 
in  order  to  make  it  commercially  feasible  at  the  publishing  level, 
they  had  to  reduce  it  to  196  pages. 

Teiser:    But  the  printing  was  still  done  by  Wood? 

Adams:     The  printing  was  still  done  by  Wood.   I'm  sure  of  it. 

Teiser:    And  by  gravure? 

Adams:     Yes,  and  some  of  it's  very  good. 

[Guests  enter;  interruption.   Returns  with  book.] 

Adams:     Colophon  says  it  was  printed  by  the  Cardinal  Company,  under  the 
supervision  of  Charles  Wood.   Designed  by  Nancy  Newhall  and 
Adrian  Wilson.   But  here  is  a  case  of  approximate  quality.  You 
see  how  granular  that  appears?  That's  really  a  very  smooth 
photographic  image.   It  is  pretty  good  in  the  whites,  but  certain 
tones  are  not  right — see  those  shadows.  This  variation  in  tone 
wasn't  that  extreme  in  the  original.   It  "jumps"  in  stages. 


Does  that  do  violence  to  your  original? 


Adams:     Yes,  it  does,  very  much.   There's  nothing  much  I  can  do  about  it. 
But  something  like  this,  just  black  and  white,  is  just  beautiful. 

Teiser:    What  is  it  that's  in  the  University  Archives — prints  or — ? 

Adams:     Proofs.   I  have  all  the  negatives.   And  they  have  a  set  of  prints. 
They  own  the  negatives,  but  I  keep  control  of  them,  because  they 
want  prints  all  the  time.   I've  got  to  turn  them  over  to  them 
some  day.   But  as  long  as  I'm  around  I'd  like  to  make  my  own 

Teiser:    That's  a  wonderful  book,  I  think. 

Adams:     It  could  have  been  better,  but  it's  not  our  fault.   The  University 
really  tried. 

Teiser:    I  suppose  books  are  often  compromises  unless  you  publish  them 

Adams:     Oh  yes.   Going  up  in  price,  terribly  expensive,  mechanical 

problems,  paper  problems,  labor  problems.  We  did  so  many  things, 
went  through  so  many  trials.   That's  why  I  have  a  very  skeptical 
point  of  view  about  the  convention  that  things  are  better  in 
Europe.   They  have  good  craftsmen,  but  they  can  go  just  as  haywire 
as  anybody  if  they're  not  under  supervision.   The  best  printing 
I've  ever  seen  has  been  right  in  San  Francisco.   In  Japan  and 
Europe  it's  cheaper,  except  that  you  have  to  go  there  to  supervise 
it,  and  you  lose  copyright  privilege — there's  all  kinds  of  tangles 
in  the  thing. 

Teiser:    Working  with  George  Waters,  as  you  do  now,  with  duotone,  do  they 

do  the  same  kind  of  correction  of  plates  that  the  engraver  can  do? 

Adams:     Well,  they  can't,  no.   That's  two-plate  litho.   So  he's  got  to  do 
it  in  his  negative.   In  other  words,  I've  got  to  give  him  the 
right  print.   We  can't  monkey  with  the  plate  as  much  as  the 
letterpress  men  did.   It's  very  complicated.   Waters  is  doing 
beautiful  work. 

Teiser:    Adrian  Wilson  said  that  they  often  do  quite  a  lot  of  correction. 
He  said  once  they  took  an  automobile  out  of  a  picture — 

Adams:     Oh,  that's  correction  in  the  photograph.   I  have  several  photographs 
that  are  very  badly  damaged.   I  couldn't  sell  a  print  that  showed 
marks  and  defects.   Walter  Mann  Company  has  a  very  fine  retoucher — 
an  "airbrush"  man.   He  can  correct  my  print.   He  takes  out  these 
defects.   You  can't  see  them.   You  don't  have  any  sense  that 
there's  any  retouching  at  all.   There's  nothing  worse  than  re 
touching  that  shows. 



Adams:     We  correct  defects  and  spots.  And  it  would  be  perfectly 

possible  to  take  out  an  automobile.   You  can  do  that.   They  have 
to  commercially  sometimes.   But  if  I  have  a  fine  photograph, 
.  I'm  not  going  to  take  out  something  important  but  I  might  take  out 
a  defect.   Although,  frankly,  if  I  had  a  beautiful  image  and  there 
was  a  beer  can  in  it,  I'd  spot  that  out  if  it  had  no  relevance  to 
the  picture. 

And  then  there's  all  kinds  of  thousands  of  little  things  that 
happen  in  photographs  when  they  are  this  small;  they  look  like 
spots;  then  you  take  them  out.  When  you  enlarge  the  image,  they 
may  become  part  of  the  structure  and  should  not  be  touched. 

Viewing  Photographs 

Adams:     There  is  the  famous  matter  of  Lincoln's  mole.  Lincoln  had  a  mole 
on  his  face,  and  in  little  pictures,  the  mole  looked  like  a  spot. 
When  they  made  a  nice  11  by  14,  it  looked  like  a  mole.   Now  the 
ethics  are — you  don't  take  the  mole  out  as  such;  you  take  it  out 
only  if  it  is  not  readable — just  a  distraction.   The  eye  picks  up 
tiny  little  things  all  out  of  proportion  to  the  size  of  the  image. 

Teiser:    This  brings  up  the  viewing  distance — and  how  things  are  supposed 
to  be  looked  at. 

Adams:     Well,  that's  pretty  complicated.   The  standard  reading  distance 

is  fourteen  or  fifteen  inches  from  the  eye,  and  what  is  called  the 
circle  of  confusion  or  the  disk  of  confusion  is  the  largest  disk 
that  appears  as  a  point  at  that  distance.   When  that's  about  1/200 
of  an  inch  in  diameter  it's  accepted  as  sharp.   Some  people  say 
1/100  of  an  inch,  and  it  has  something  to  do  with  the  reading 
distance.   But  there  comes  a  point  when  normal  eyes  cannot  see  a 
disk  other  than  as  a  point.   Then  the  image  is  "sharp."  That's  a 
very  great  simplification  because  that  doesn't  always  hold.   And 
there  are  several  things  that  are  always  expressed  as  basic 
principles  but  for  some  reason  or  other  are  very  flexible. 

I'll  never  forget  in  San  Francisco,  I  had  a  16  by  20  print 
of  a  picture  taken  near  Aspen.   And  it  wasn't  really  sharp.   It 
was  all  right  in  8  by  10,  but  it  did  not  look  right  in  a  16  by  20. 
But  a  friend,  Dr.  Overhage,  sitting  at  the  far  end  of  the  room — 
almost  as  far  as  that  lamp — looked  at  this  picture  and  said,  "Why 
doesn't  that  one  seem  sharp?" 

Teiser:    That's  about  how  far? 


Adams:     Twenty  or  thirty  feet.   Now,  there's  no  way  to  define  a  degree  of 
sharpness — it  mathematically  approached  the  disk  of  confusion 
limit.   Here,  the  illusion  of  sharpness  brings  in  the  term 
"acuteness."  And  scientifically  that  is  the  micro-density 
relationship — that  is,  the  sharp  difference  of  one  tone  to  another. 
The  curve  appears  as  an  abrupt  "cliff"  from  black  to  white.  Now 
with  a  picture  that's  out  of  focus  or  not  sharp,  there's  no  direct 
transition.   You  take  the  curve  from  black  to  white,  that  would  be 
only  45°  or  more.   Now  you  take  a  really  sharp  photograph  and  the 
curve  is  very  abrupt.   The  eye  in  scanning  it  senses  this  thing. 
It  doesn't  necessarily  see  a  disk  and  a  point;  it  senses  the  very 
sudden  difference  in  value.   It's  like  an  electronic  scanner  on  an 
airplane  at  great  altitudes  that  is  used  for  photographic  purposes. 

The  difference  is  there.   I  was  making  an  enlargement  the 
other  day,  and  I  can  stand  six  feet  away,  and  I  can  "judge"  that 
focus.   I  don't  try  to  think  about  it.   I  just  scan  the  thing  and 
judge.   And  then  I  go  over  it  with  my  magnifier  and  I'm  usually 
right.   If  I  try  to  think,  try  to  look  at  it  and  get  down  to  see, 
"Now  do  I  think  this  is  the  grain  or  it  isn't?"  it's  not  so  accurate. 
This  is  a  very  interesting  psychological  factor. 

Then  the  other  thing  is  that  the  ideal  perspective — say  I 
take  an  eight  by  ten  picture  with  a  twelve  inch  lens  and  make  a 
print,  I  get  the  perfect  perspective  effect  if  I  look  at  it  from 
twelve  inches  away.   If  I  enlarge  it  to  twenty  inches  in  length, 
I  can  be  twenty-four  inches  away.  Well,  I  have  a  picture  taken 
with  my  23  1/2-inch  lens  of  the  "New  Mexico  Moonrise"  enlarged  five 
times — that's  enlarged  to  fifty  inches — my  heavens,  that  should  be 
in  correct  perspective  at  one  hundred  inches,  roughly.   But  I  can 
walk  right  up  to  it,  within  reading  distance,  and  marvelous  things 
happen;  the  whole  thing  opens  up.   The  psychological  effect  you  see 
is  not  just  a  physical — optical — one. 

Teiser:    When  people  read  books  the  size  of  Fiat  Lux*,  do  they  hold  them  at 
arms'  length,  do  you  think,  or  do  they  hold  them  at  regular  reading 

Adams:     I  think  regular  reading  distance.   They  hold  them  in  their  lap. 
You  see  people  pull  a  picture  away  sometimes,  but  that's  to  suit 
the  individual  eye. 

Teiser:    Last  Sunday,  you  were  showing  the  students  from  Foothill  College 
a  very  large  print  of  a  bull — 

*The  page  size  is  approximately  10"  by  13  1/2". 


Adams : 



Adams : 


Well,  wasn't  that  supposed  to  be  a  poster? 
be  way  up  on  a  wall  somewhere? 

Wasn't  that  supposed  to 

Well,  it  was  used  as  such,  and  Europeans  use  a  lot  of  stuff  in 
posters,  and  they  make  big  prints,  and  they're  hung  on  walls  in 
galleries.   They  have  what  are  called  "carrying  power"  when  they're 
that  big.   A  subtle  little  print  like  one  of  the  Polaroids  would  be 
lost  in  a  gallery  of  that  kind. 

But  they  don't  care  much  for  either  print  quality  or  spotting — 
it's  very  strange.   The  Europeans  have  a  very  poor  concept  of  what 
we  call  print  quality.   They  achieve  things  that  are  very  theatrical 
in  a  very  intense  way — a  very  human  way — I'm  speaking  of  the  good 
ones  now,  not  the  picturesque  postcard  shooting.   But  what  we  call 
print  quality  is  like  a  beautiful  piano  and  beautiful  playing. 
They  get  the  image  and  the  meaning  of  the  image,  and  primarily 
through  reproduction  because  people  in  Europe  don't  buy  prints. 
There  are  very  few  prints  bought  in  Europe;  very  few  fine  prints 
around.   You  see  European  people  come  with  a  portfolio  mostly  of 
loose,  unmounted  prints.   They  get  dog-eared  and  cracked,  and  it 
doesn't  make  any  difference  to  them. 

If  that  big  picture  of  Half-Dome  had  a  crack  in  the  paper,  I 
couldn't  use  it.   I  threw  away  four  of  those  before  I  got  one  that 
was  right.   That's  our  standard!   It's  just  like  if  I  were  a 
pianist  I  wouldn't  let  a  record  out  with  a  false  note.   I  might 
make  some  mistake,  but  if  it's  obviously  a  booboo  then  I  would 
retape  it.   I  don't  know  whether  that's  a  logical  comparison.   What 
is  quality?  A  great  many  photographers  think  that  my  work  is  a 
particular  school  of  photography — very  precious,  where  you  overdo 
the  print  quality;  that  that  isn't  really  necessary;  that  the  only 
thing  that  counts  is  the  image.   Then  you  counter  by  saying  that 
the  image  isn't  excitingly  presented.   It  just  doesn't  get  over, 
it's  not  an  appropriate  or  compelling  print. 

That  bull  picture  is  probably  an  appropriate  print  for  the 
way  the  man  saw  it.   I  can't  imagine  making  a  so-called  fine  print 
of  it  because  the  image  itself  isn't  a  fine  image.   It's  grainy  and 
harsh.   I  don't  know  what  you  could  do  with  it. 

Well,  if  you  kept  it  down  to  a  little  tiny  size,  you  wouldn't 
notice  it  so  much. 

The  photographer  gave  me  that,  and  I  should  mount  it,  because  it'll 
get  ruined.   And  as  I  say,  it  would  be  very  good  at  a  distance. 
But  now  my  big  prints  are  made  for  another  purpose.   They're  big 
prints  for  their  own  sake,  and  you're  supposed  to  be  able  to  go  up 
close  to  them.   But  you  can't  do  that  with  most  blowups. 


Teiser:    I  think  you  were  saying  that  the  prints  for  The  Family  of  Man  were 

Adams:     Oh,  they  were  mostly  terrible.   That  exhibit  was  a  great  blow  to 
photography.   They  were  just  casually  made.   The  pictures  were 
selected  for  some  theme,  and  the  images  themselves  were  mostly 
disgracefully  bad,  and  the  prints  commercially  done — no  sympathy, 
no  feeling  for  it  at  all.  They  were  terrible.  From  our  standards, 
they  were  just  "commercial."  The  exhibit  put  photography  back 
twenty  years! 

Now,  there  are  several  things  that  happened  to  augment  this 
thing.   The  average  blowup  is  terrible.   The  whole  thing  is  con 
ceptual,  a  big  idea  may  need  big  prints.   You  should  really 
photograph  it — see  something  that  you  visualize  as  a  large  print. 
Well,  when  you  do  that,  you  must  have  a  certain  optical  precision. 
If  it's  a  poor  negative,  it  just  won't  project.   But  sometimes,  you 
have  tonal  qualities  that  you  can  get  by  with  an  image  that  isn't 
too  sharp.   But  so  much  depends  on  the  enlarging  light. 

There's  quite  a  display  up  in  Yosemite  in  the  Mountain  Room  of 
rock  climbing  pictures.   It  really  is  quite  an  achievement.   They're 
huge,  and  I  know  they're  done  with  a  four  by  five  camera.   They're 
much  better  than  any  I've  ever  seen.   They're  relatively  soft.   The 
definition  is  absolutely  superb. 

Well,  I  can  go  on  forever  on  these  things. 

Light  Sources  and  Light  Measurement 

Teiser:    There's  point  source  light,  and  then  there's — ? 

Adams:     There's  condenser  light — varying  phases  of  condenser  illumination. 
Point  source  uses  a  condenser;  "point  source"  means  a  light  of  very 
small  area.   The  average  condenser  uses  a  frosted  globe,  so  it 
gives  you  a  little  more  scattered  light,  but  it  still  is  primarily 
columnated.   And  diffuse  light  is  just  light  that  comes  from  a 
diffusing  area. 

Teiser:    You  were  asking  the  students  the  other  day  if  they  used  condenser 

Adams:     You  can  usually  tell,  because  you  get  blocked  whites,  high  values. 
It's  a  matter  of  a  pencil  of  light  striking  a  small  area  of  the 
negative  and  scattering.   A  certain  percentage  of  this  gets  to  the 
print  and  the  rest  is  scattered  beyond  the  picture  area.   And  the 


Adams:     result  is  that  the  image  of  that  particular  high  density  is 
proportionately  less  than  the  actual  diffuse  density  of  the 
negative  in  that  area.   If  you  have  enough  shadows  to  hold  low 
values,  it  doesn't  make  too  much  difference. 

When  you  get  a  diffuse  light,  every  section  of  that  negative 
has  myriads  of  pencils  of  light  striking  it;  it  scatters  the  light 
but  it  maintains  its  diffuse-density  scale.   In  other  words,  if 
the  negative  scale  is  one  to  1.7,  then  the  image  scale  would  be 
about  1.7  on  the  enlarger  easel.   The  print  could  be  soft.   If  you 
hold  that  scale,  it  would  be  soft.   It  could  also  be  very  rich  in 
development  and  toning  and  still  hold  the  scale,  but  the  actual 
depth  of  tone  would  be  greater.   So  we  get  up  to  an  image  scale  of 
log  2.3,  which  is  one  to  200  arithmetically.  You  see,  the  densities 
are  measured  in  log-to-the-base  ten  numbers.   Some  people  are  very 
confused  by  it.   I  just  sent  a  memo  to  Polaroid.   There's  some 
people  there  that  are  a  little  mixed  up.   They've  set  their 
reflection  densitometer  to  zero  (0.0)  for  the  white  paper;  it  is 
really  about  0.08.   For  several  years,  because  of  this  setting, 
they  don't  get  the  same  measurements  I  do  from  prints.   I've  got  a 
well-calibrated  Macbeth  densitometer.   They  say,  "We'll  take  your 
density  and  subtract  this."  Well,  that's  all  right,  but — when  you 
think  of  the  arithmetic  equivalent,  when  you  subtract  logs,  you 
divide,  so  you're  getting  a  variation  of  one  value  to  another, 
which  can  be  a  very  perplexing  thing,  you  see. 

Well,  the  best  explanation  of  this  is  if  2.0  is  100,  and  1.0 
is  10  and  you  subtract  1.0  from  2.0,  you  get  1.0,  and  that  would 
be  the  log  difference  and  represent  arithmetic  10.   Now,  2.0  is 
100,  1.0  is  10;  subtract  10  from  100  and  you  get  90.   But  10  into 
100  is  10,  and  not  90.   (Maybe  this  is  irrelevant  for  your  project.) 

Teiser:    What  would  be  the  disadvantage  of  translating  all  those  into 
ordinary  arithmetic  expressions? 

Adams:     I'm  thinking  very  seriously  of  doing  it,  because — we  talk  in  mixed 
ways.   The  engraver  says,  "I  want  a  print  of  1.5  range."  That's 
roughly  one  to  32  arithmetically.   So,  we  can  talk  about  a  range 
of  about  one  to  32.   The  Zone  System  would  work  out  just  as  well 
with  arithmetic  numbers.   But  H  &  D  (Hurter  and  Driff ield) ,  who 
developed  the  sensitometer,  just  established  the  logarithmic  value 
convention  because  it  gives  a  much  simpler  curve  than  you  get 
arithmetically,  although  it  can  be  thought  of  as  geometric.   I 
think  that  sometimes  people  just  perpetuate  errors,  because  for 
the  life  of  me  I  don't  see  why  you  couldn't  use  arithmetic  numbers. 
I  don't  understand  it.   If  you've  got  100  and  then  200,  you've  got 
a  range  of  one  to  2.  You  can  express  one  to  2  in  logs — one  to  2  in 
logs  would  be  a  value  of  0.3.   If  0.0  is  one,  0.3  would  be  2,  0.6 
is  4,  0.9  is  8,  1.2  is  16,  and  so  on. 


Adams:     You  get  to  read  the  curves  easily.   I  don't  have  any  trouble  with 
them.   I  can  read  them.   You  can  get  a  lot  out  of  just  looking  at 
the  curve — its  shape.   But  as  that  log  system  is  geometric,  and 
every  step  is  2X,  I  don't  know  why  we  can't  call  the  steps  2,  4, 
8,  16,  and  so  on. 

Teiser:    Perhaps  when  everything  goes  on  the  metric  system,  all  that  can  be 

Adams:     Yes,  but  they  won't  change  that.   But  it  will  be  wonderful  with 
computers.   You  can  write  in  any  log  base  you  want. 

That's  why  the  camera  can  be  a  terrible  thing.   The  camera  is 
now  taken  for  granted:   own  the  most  expensive  camera!   You  assume 
if  you  buy  it,  it's  got  to  work.   The  construction  of  them  is 
really  a  technological  marvel.   And  the  lenses  are  superb;  nothing 
has  been  made  like  them  to  date. 

Technological  Advances  in  Photographic  Films 

Teiser:    You  were  speaking  the  other  day  about  film  bases  and  so  forth.   And 
it  occurred  to  me  that  you  talked  about  the  changes  in  printing 
papers  but  not  much  about  the  changes  in  films  and  their  emulsions. 

Adams:     Well,  there's  a  progression  from  the  beginning.   Let's  take  the  wet 
plate.   First  go  back  to  the  daguerreotype  and  the  calotype.   Then 
the  wet  plate  and  its  collodion  emulsion,  it's  sensitive  to  blue 
light  only,  and  it  had  to  be  exposed  and  developed  when  wet. 
Collodion  lasts  a  long,  long  time — it's  perfectly  good.   But  it 
had  that  great  disadvantage. 

Then  back  in  the  1880s  they  developed  the  dry  gelatin  plate, 
and  that  was  also  sensitive  only  to  blue  light.   Then  they  added 
dyes  to  the  emulsion  and  rendered  the  plate  sensitive  to  green 
light.   That  was  called  orthochromatic .   The  function  of  the  dye 
is  that  while  the  silver  halide  responds  only  to  blue  light — 
radiant  energy — the  dye  responds  to  green  light,  absorbs  it,  and 
transmits  an  energy  to  the  halides,  an  amount  of  energy  sufficient 
to  reproduce  images  of  both  blue  and  green  colors.   Then  came  the 
panchromatic  plate  which  had  green-  and  red-sensitive  dyes.   And 
infrared  requires  another  dye. 

Later,  of  course,  everything  went  panchromatic,  although  you 
can  still  get  ortho.   You  can  make  panchromatic  film  of  ortho  type 
by  using  a  minus-red  filter.   And  then  you  can  make  panchromatic 
film  blue-sensitive  by  using  a  C-5  filter — which  cuts  out  all  color 
but  blue.   The  emulsions  used  to  be  fairly  "thick."  Nobody  thought 


Adams:     of  them  as  being  thick,  they  were  just  that  way.   And  they  had 

what  is  known  as  the  "gamma  wavelength  effect."  The  short  wave 
lengths  scattered  very  quickly  near  the  surface  and  the  green 
penetrated,  say,  half-way  (just  for  the  sake  of  argument). 
Therefore  an  image  in  green  light  would  have  higher  density,  and 
then  the  red  rays  would  penetrate  much  further.   The  contrasts 
would  be  rather  high  with  a  red  filter.   That  was  apart  from  the 
color  separations.   So  in  the  old  one-shot  cameras,  you  took  three 
pictures  at  once,  through  the  three  different  filters — blue,  green, 
and  red.   You  developed  the  green  image  normal,  the  blue  image  more, 
and  the  red  image  less  to  get  the  same  contrast,  or  what  is  called 
"gamma"  in  the  negatives.   And  that  achieved  the  required  color 
balance.   Some  of  the  earlier  plates  and  films  were  extremely 
contrasty  when  made  with  a  red  filter.   White  clouds  would  be 
"burned  out,"  and  the  sky  would  be  very  dark. 

With  Polaroid,  which  gives  a  surface  image,  you  can  use  all 
the  filters  and  you  get  only  a  small  change  of  contrast.   You  get 
a  change  of  values — the  sky  will  be  darker,  the  greens  will  be 
lighter,  depending  on  what  filter  you  use.   But  the  whites  will  not 
increase  in  density  to  any  extent.   The  shadows  will  be  a  little 
darker  with  a  yellow,  green,  red  filter,  because  they  reduce  the 
blue  reflected  light  from  the  sky. 

So  most  of  our  present  film  is  known  as  thin-emulsion  type; 
one  film  made  by  Kodak,  Super-XX,  has  the  older  characteristics. 
It's  quite  valuable  in  some  work,  where  we  can  expand  by  prolonged 
development.   With  an  emulsion  we  can't  expand  as  much  because 
there  is  less  silver  in  the  emulsion.   But  on  the  other  hand,  we 
get  a  sharper  image. 

Teiser:    When  did  that  change  come  about,  generally? 

Adams:     I  would  say,  thin  emulsions,  within  the  last  ten  years.   I  know 

when  I  got  the  first  thin  emulsion  pan  film  I  was  so  mad  I  called 
up  Kodak  and  I  said,  "You  put  that  on  Kleenex!   I  can't  handle  it. 
It  just  folds  up  in  the  developing  tank!   When  are  you  going  to 
use  a  heavier  film  base?"  They  said,  "Mr.  Adams,  it's  just  the 
same  film  base,  but  the  emulsion  is  that  much  thinner."  They  said, 
"We  are  changing  the  film  base.   We  have  to."  It  was  too  flimsy. 
You  couldn't  feed  it  into  the  developing  reels.   That  may  be  a 
great  shock  to  people  who  always  thought  the  emulsion  was  always 
a  very  thin  coating — whisper  thin,  you  know.   But  it  isn't;  it's 
quite  a  structure. 

[End  Tape  8,  Side  2] 


[Begin  Tape  9,  Side  1] 

Teiser:    As  I  remember,  at  the  time  the  thin  emulsion  films  came  out,  there 
was  some  claim  that  they  were  of  higher  acutance. 

Adams:     Yes,  they  are.   Well,  I  guess  we  can  say  that  light  scatters  from 
a  silver  grain  at  a  cosine  4  angle  relationship  to  the  direct  ray. 
Some  say  it  is  a  spherical  diffusion.   In  Polaroid,  the  earlier 
positive-negative  prints,  the  developing  layer  was  fairly  thick, 
so  you  had  a  loss  of  acuteness.   You  still  would  get  all  the 
resolution;  if  you  look  at  it  under  a  microscope  you  see  so  many 
lines  per  millimeter.   But  because  the  silver  passes  at  an  angle 
through  the  thickness  of  the  developer,  a  difference  of  point  of 
emergence  to  the  point  of  exit,  you'd  see  there'd  be  quite  a  little 
diffusion  effect.   With  the  old  Ansco  Superpan  Supreme,  which  was 
a  magnificent  film  in  large  sizes,  when  used  in  35  millimeter  size 
you  couldn't  get  a  sharp  image  except  with  a  very  long  focus  lens. 
With  short  focal  length  lens,  the  light  would  come  in  at  an  angle; 
the  loss  of  acutance  related  to  that  angle.   And  the  further  away 
you  were  from  the  center  of  the  film  the  worse  the  loss  of  defi 
nition  would  be. 

Teiser:    Meanwhile,  the  speeds  of  the  film  emulsions  have... 

Adams:     They've  improved  speed.   But  of  course  that  again  is,  in  a  sense, 
misunderstood.   The  emulsion  speed  is  a  pretty  fixed  thing,  and 
you  don't  change  it  by  development  as  some  think  you  do;  the  ASA 
remains  the  same  on  the  exposure  index.   I  have  to  operate  and 
work  with  Tri-X  at  250  speed  to  get  the  density  range  I  want.   It's 
advertised  at  320  and  400,  but  that's  losing  some  shadow  densities. 
Plus-X  is  advertised  at  125;  I  use  it  at  64.   Of  course  this  means 
less  development;  you  get  a  very  smooth  image. 

Now  if,  say,  64  gives  me  a  zone  I  value — proper  density  value — 
and  I  want  to  shoot  at  125,  that  moves  the  exposure  to  Zone  II;  at 
250  it  moves  up  to  III,  and  at  500  it  moves  up  to  IV.   And  that 
means  I  must  increase  development,  so  what  is  there  is  a  general 
increase  in  density  in  other  areas  of  the  image.  Also  an  increase 
in  grain.   You've  seen  many  pictures  where  you  have  no  shadow 
detail  at  all — say  pictures  taken  at  night,  groups  in  nightclubs 
or  theaters.   They're  actually  empty  shadows.   They're  shooting 
that  film  at  something  like  maybe  1200,  and  ferociously  over 
developing  it,  and  they  lost  all  the  shadow  values. 

Teiser:    I  suppose  you  could  be  accused  of  overexposure  and  underdevelopment , 
but  that  would  be  a  subjective  judgment. 

Adams:     Well,  at  higher  speeds,  developed  in  conventional  process,  I  think 
it's  Kodak's  8000,  which  is  scientific  film,  there's  not  good  image 
quality.   Land  has  the  10,000-speed  film  for  the  oscilloscope, 


Adams:     which  does  its  work  beautifully  but  it  couldn't  be  used  very  well 
in  nature.   Land  actually  had  film  at  ASA  20,000 — could  photograph 
by  starlight.   Twenty  thousand  ASA  is  a  pretty  fast — you'd  have  a 
hard  time  not  overexposing  that  under  any  normal  lighting 

Teiser:    Are  attempts  being  made  to  increase  speed  in  a  quality  sense? 

Adams:     Oh  yes,  they're  doing  that  all  the  time.   But  you  come  into  some 
very  complicated  physical  laws,  I  guess — quantum  laws  apply.   I 
don't  know;  I'm  not  enough  of  a  mathematician  for  that.   But  you 
see,  there  are  two  big  objectives.   One  is  to  get  away  from  silver. 
Silver  is  getting  scarcer.   Strangely  enough,  there's  never  been 
anything  as  light  sensitive  as  silver  halide.   And  you  know  that 
a  halide  is  silver  combined  with  bromine,  chlorine,  fluorine,  or 
iodine.   And,  there's  been  nothing  that  can  equal  that.   They've 
been  experimenting  with  color-sensitive  dyes  and  other  strange 
concoctions,  and  they  haven't  gotten  very  far  with  it. 

Electrostatic  photography  like  Xerox  has  got  some  continuous 
tone,  but  it's  not  very  good  for  general  purpose;  the  equipment  is 

The  next  step  will  probably  be  light  amplification.   That  is, 
a  cathode  tube  like  they  use  in  astronomical  photography.  With  it 
you  are  picking  up  the  impulse  of  light,  and  you  can  magnify  that 
as  many  times  as  you  wish.   You  have  it  also  when  you  g6  to  a 
modern  x-ray  fluoroscope.   They  don't  look  through  you  any  more 
and  see  your  "shadow"  on  the  screen.   You're  getting  one-fiftieth 
of  the  dose,  and  they  look  at  a  television  screen.  This  is 
because  the  very  faint  image  that  is  generated  can  be  amplified 
electrically.  That  may  be  the  next  step — where  you'll  have  a 
very,  very  faint  image  which  might  be  amplified  in  the  camera  or 
might  be  amplified  out  of  camera.   We  don't  know.   But  it  will 

Teiser:    What  speed  films  were  you  using  when  you  started  photographing? 

Adams:     Oh  heavens,  they  were  down  to  25,  40,  32 — I  think  50  was  a  pretty 
high  speed.   Then  they  got  to  100,  and  everybody  gasped.   The 
picture  of  the  Golden  Gate  [1932]  was  done  on  Kodak  Super  Pancho- 
press,  which  I  think  had  a  Weston  speed  of  50,  which  would  be  64 
ASA.   Pretty  grainy,  but  it  had  fine  quality. 

Teiser:    Those  were  the  kinds  of  films  that  Oscar  Barnack,  who  made  the 
first  35  millimeter  "candid"  photographs,  was  using. 

Adams:     The  first  miniature,  yes. 


Adams:     I  have  made  prints  from  old  negatives.   I  have  a  print  of  Arnold 
Genthe's  picture  of  Chinatown- -1904.   It  was  done  with  a  postcard 
Kodak,  the  film  speed  of  which  was  probably  16.   And  this  is  as 
good  as  anything  Cartier-Bresson  ever  did.   It's  absolutely 
magnificent.   It  is  also  a  beautiful  image.   I  mean,  tonally. 
We  got  a  gorgeous  print  out  of  it.   Now  that  was  just  an  ortho- 
chromatic  film.   And  it  was  a  very  curly  film.   Noncurling  it  said, 
"n.c.,"  but  it  was  better  than  the  earlier  film. 

"The  Negative  is  Like  the  Composer's  Score" 

Adams:     There's  always  this  problem  of  the  photographer  having  to  adjust. 
If  I  have  a  35  millimeter  camera,  I  see  things  a  certain  way,  in 
relation  to  that  camera.   And  I  would  compose,  if  I  were  a 
composer,  for  certain  instruments.   I  wouldn't  try  to  write  some 
thing  for  the  flute  that  would  sound  better  on  the  pipe  organ.   (I 
mean,  that's  an  extreme  case.) 

Then  you  go  through  all  these  processes.   You  just  try  to  get 
the  image  that  you  want.   Sometimes  you  know  what  it  is,  and 
sometimes  you  don't.   You  just  feel  your  way.   And  a  lot  of  photo 
graphers  only  view  something — they  don't  really  "see"  it.   They 
see  you  sitting  there  and  they  go  "click."  And  then  they  have  some 
empirical  experience,  so  they  get  some  usable  exposure,  but  they 
still  may  have  an  awful  lot  of  darkroom  fussing  to  do.   And  many 
times  they  have  no  concern  whatsoever  for  tonal  quality  or 

I  had  a  girl  working  for  me  once  who  wanted  to  be  a 
photographer.   She'd  done  a  little  work.   She  made  some  proofs  of 
my  pictures,  and  I  couldn't  recognize  them.   Now,  this  is  an 
interesting  thing.   She  had  absolutely  no  print  sense.   Could  not 
make  a  print  that  had  any  value  at  all.   And  I  was  printing  my  own 
pictures  of  national  parks,  and  I  couldn't  recognize  them.' 
Because  I  hadn't  seen  them  just  as  a  picture  of  the  Big  White 
Throne,  but  as  a  value  composition.   This  thing  would  come  out 
looking  just  awful. 

Teiser:    When  you  have  someone  working  with  you  that  way,  do  you  ordinarily 
have  a  print  to  guide  them  by? 

Adams:     Well,  I  don't  let  them  print.   Liliane  De  Cock  was  the  only  one 
who  really  made  very  fine  prints.   And  Gerry  Sharpe  could  make  a 
fine  print.   And  I  think  my  new  man,  Ted  Organ,  can  make  them,  too. 
But  he  just  thinks  mostly  of  the  work  in  his  own  field.   But  I  have 
to  make  my  own  fine  exhibit  prints.   Sometimes,  with  the  special 


Adams:     edition  prints,  I  can  start  it  off,  then  have  my  assistant  repeat; 
but  even  that  has  a  very  subtle  difference.   It's  very  hard  to 
explain,  to  put  your  finger  right  on  the  problem.   Edward  Weston's 
boys  made  prints  from  his  negatives.   They  were  a  little  more 
brilliant,  some  of  them  were  really  "better,"  but  in  the  main  they 
don't  look  like  Edward's  prints.   They  don't  have  quite  that 
feeling.   It's  very  hard  to  describe. 

I  had  to  make  an  enlargement  of  one  of  Edward  Weston's 
negatives  for  an  exhibit.   I  had  the  print — it  was  very  good — and 
he  loaned  me  the  negative.   I  had  his  print  to  go  by.   And  I  had 
one  of  the  most  difficult  times  in  my  life  trying  to  make  a  print 
that  felt  a  little  like  Edward's.   I  can  make  a  print — no  trouble 
in  that.   This  was  a  pretty  good  negative — not  too  sharp;  he'd 
never  enlarged,  you  know.   But  to  get  that  peculiar  quality  that 
was  Edward  Weston's — to  even  approach  it — was  tough! 

And  the  same  thing  with  the  Clarence  Kennedy  pictures  of 
sculpture.   He  had  the  most  extraordinary  feeling  in  the  marble 
quality  of  his  images.   I've  tried  everything  under  the  sun.   I'm 
printing,  I'm  bleaching — I  can't  get  that  same  "feeling."  Of 
course,  what  really  happened  is  that  he  didn't  process  things  too 
accurately.   In  twenty,  thirty  years  high  values  have  bleached  out 
a  little.   The  high  values  as  they  are  suggest  sparkle  and  trans- 
lucence,  which  is  in  a  way  an  accident! 

Teiser:    That  brings  up  the  whole  point  of  what  is  a  negative,  and  how  will 
it  last?  What  should  it  stand  for?  What  should  its  life  be? 

Adams:     There's  the  recent  trend  (of  course,  like  most  trends,  everything 
is  overdone)  for  the  "archival"  as  they  call  it.   People  are  just 
going  out  of  their  minds  in  trying  to  process  and  protect  the 
negative  and  print  images,  making  the  image  totally  permanent. 
Well,  two  hypo  baths  and  selenium  toning  will  make  an  image 
extremely  permanent.   If  you  mounted  it  on  a  bad  board  or  subjected 
it  to  sulphur  carrying  boards,  high  acid  boards  and  slip  sheets, 
and  other  chemical  conditions,  you  could  do  damage. 

Now,  I  have  some  of  my  earlier  negatives  and  prints  that  are 
fading;  the  ones  made  before  we  used  the  two  fixing  baths.   But  I 
seldom  find  a  negative,  even  some  I  developed  in  the  field,  that 
shows  deterioration.   The  early  negatives,  of  course,  were  on 
nitrate  base,  which  was  very  dangerous,  because  under  humid 
conditions,  if  people  didn't  keep  them  properly,  they  would 
deteriorate  into  nitroglycerin.   Kennedy  had  a  whole  bunch  of 
negatives  with  paper  separators  in  a  drawer,  and  all  of  them  were 
in  almost  liquid  condition!   If  anybody  would  come  there  with  a 
cigarette  a  dangerous  fire  could  occur. 


Adams : 

Teiser ; 

Adams : 

Adams : 

Adams : 

And  I  remember  one  time  an  air  force  captain,  Albert  Stevens,  gave 
me  a  great  big  roll  of  outdated  aerofilm.   And  he  said,  "Look,  I 
just  have  to  throw  it  away.   So  why  don't  you  take  it?  You  can 
cut  it  up  and  use  it.   It's  fine  stuff.   It's  just  outdated  and  we 
can't  use  it;  it'll  last  for  a  year  or  two  if  you  keep  it  cool." 

Well,  I  kept  it  around  for  three  or  four  years,  and  I  thought, 
"I'd  better  dispose  of  this,"  so  I  took  it  out  in  a  sand  lot  in 
back  of  my  house,  dug  a  hole,  and  I  put  the  cannister  in  it.   I 
had  an  old  flashpowder  wick;  I  stuck  that  into  the  roll  of  film, 
and  lit  it  and  went  to  a  safe  distance.   The  fire  looked  like  Old 
Faithful.   The  thing  blew  up,  in  roaring  flames. 

The  Cleveland  Clinic  disaster  in  its  x-ray  department  was  of 
similar  nature.   The  fire  started,  and  then  thousands  of  x-ray 
films,  of  nitrate  base,  exploded. 

Then  the  manufacturers  changed  to  acetate  base,  which  is  much 
more  stable.   The  Golden  Gate  picture,  for  instance,  has  shrunk 
over  a  quarter  of  an  inch  in  both  dimensions.   The  acetate  base 
has  more  stability. 

Now  Kodak  has  what  they  call  the  Estar  base,  which  has 
extraordinary  stability.   It's  a  plastic — well,  so's  acetate, 
because  they're  all  plastic  of  a  kind. 

We  were  looking  in  the  Friends  of  Photography  gallery  here  in 
Carmel,  at  photographs  by  Frederick  Evans.   One  of  the  captions 
said  that  his  wife  required  that  all  of  his  negatives  be  destroyed 
on  his  death  or  her  death. 

No,  they  really  weren't,  because  they've  been  making  some  prints 
from  them.   I  guess  his  son  kept  them.   Well  now,  maybe  they  copied 
his  prints. 

It  said  they  were  made  from  positive  slides  for  projection. 

That  may  be  right, 
copies  from  those. 

There  were  positive  slides,  and  they  could  make 

I  wonder,  though,  why  would  anyone  want  the  negatives  destroyed. 

Well,  it's  a  great  problem  we  all  have.   Now,  with  Weston,  his  sons 
could  carry  on  his  work,  in  a  sense.   Now,  I  have  a  great  many 
Yosemite  pictures  which  are  very  valuable  commercially  for  the 
family.   And  it  would  be  terrible  to  destroy  those.   But  take  that 
white  post  and  spandrel  picture  ["White  Post,  Columbia,  California"] 
I  don't  know  who  else  could  print  that  just  that  way.   I  have  a 
certain  feeling  about  it,  and  it  takes  quite  a  technique  to  get  it, 
and  if  it  wouldn't  be  my  work,  what  good  would  the  negative  be?   It 


Adams:     would  be  very  easy  to  destroy  all  the  negatives,  except  the  ones 
that  have  historic  value  or  scientific  value,  or  some  commercial 
value.   But  my  "Moonrise"  [Hernandez]  print,  unless  it  were  made 
by  me,  it  would  have  no  value.   There  are  hundreds  of  them.   And 
so,  if  something  happens  to  me  and  I  can't  print  them  any  more, 
what  do  I  do?  My  Portfolio  V  negatives  are  all  canceled.   I  have 
an  old  canceling  machine  I  got  from  the  Wells  Fargo  Bank I 

Teiser:    That's  the  Varian  portfolio? 

Adams:     No,  Varian 's  was  Portfolio  IV.   Portfolio  V  was  limited  to  110 

copies  only.   That  means  I  never  can  print  any  more  of  the  images. 
The  other  day  I  found  two  or  three  prints,  and  I  had  to  tear  them 
up  because  they're  not  supposed  to  be  out.   And  I  have  quite  a 
number  of  them — extra  ones  that  were  mounted  in  case  of  disaster. 
And  they  really  shouldn't  be  around,  because  my  contract  and  my 
ethics  say  that  there  were  just  110  things  printed,  and  one  hundred 
for  sale.   But  I  have  a  few  temporarily.   For  instance,  an  accident 
happened  to  the  one  a  client  had;  I  could  supply  another.   And  I 
asked  for  the  damaged  print  back,  and  that  was  destroyed,  and  I 
sent  them  another  numbered  the  same.   But  I  can  do  that  up  to  a 
certain  point,  you  see.   But  I'd  have  to  have  the  other  one  back 
and  destroy  it,  so  there' d  never  be  any  more  than  the  stated  number 
of  prints  available. 

Teiser:    So,  in  effect,  the  negative  stands  for  nothing  in  itself? 

Adams:     No.   The  negative  is  like  the  composer's  score.   The  print  is  like 
the  performance,  but  it's  not  a  score  that  can  be  performed  by 
others.   We  say  that.   Now,  of  course,  it's  perfectly  possible 
that  a  photographer  could  come  along  and  get  more  out  of  my  prints. 
But  the  question  is:  would  it  be  me?  And  the  collector,  the 
purchaser,  and  the  expert,  they  want  the  original  of  the  artist's 
work.  Whether  the  other  person  doing  it  would  do  a  better  job  is 
an  ethical  question  that's  very  important. 

Sometimes  we  get  too  precious,  but  it  depends.   I  sell  .a  print 
for,  say,  $200,  $250.  The  price  for  a  16  by  20,  after  this  fall, 
is  going  to  be  $350.*  Now,  that  has  a  rare  value.   I  mean  if  a 
person  buys  a  print  by  me  and  pays  for  it.   That  person  is  not 
going  to  be  very  happy  if  he  sees  another  print  out  that's  almost 
like  it  but  doesn't  have  my  signature.   That's  an  ethical  point. 

*After  September  1976  it  is  five  hundred  dollars  for  all  prints 
16  by  20  or  smaller.   [A. A.] 


Adams:     As  far  as  the  creation  of  a  photograph  goes,  if  you  can  divorce 

it  from  that  element,  then  you  should  make  as  many  as  possible  for 
as  low  a  price  as  possible,  if  you  want  to  get  the  message  around. 

Clarence  Kennedy,  after  all  his  sculpture  pictures  were  out, 
claimed  he  could  do  prints  for  fifteen  or  twenty  cents  apiece! 
He'd  have  a  student  printing  them.   But  I  think  he  tried  it,  but 
the  prints  didn't  look  like  his  pictures.   There  are  all  kinds  of 
pictures  of  these  sculptures  around.   There  wasn't  a  thing  he 
photographed  that  hadn't  been  photographed  a  thousand  times.   But 
he  got  something  remarkable  in  his  images,  you  see — a  "spiritual" 
interpretation  of  the  marble.   Then  the  whole  concept  related  to 
the  original  art  element,  and  the  creative  photographic  element. 
For  instance,  there  are  many  pictures  of  Death  Valley  that  are 
much  sharper  than  anything  Edward  [Weston]  ever  did.   Edward  didn't 
worry  too  much  about  true  sharpness.   He  didn't  enlarge,  he  didn't 
have  very  good  lenses  until  the  end.   And  it  didn't  make  any 
difference  with  the  contact  print — an  old  rectilinear  lens  gave  a 
beautiful  image.   But  you  enlarge  it  two  or  three  times,  and  it 
begins  to  "go  to  pieces." 

But  as  I  say,  there's  nothing  worse  than  a  very  sharp  image 
of  a  very  fuzzy  concept.  [Laughter]   That's  one  of  the  illusions 
that  people  have  about  Group  f/64.   Actually  if  we  had  stopped 
down  everything  to  f/64,  we  couldn't  make  many  enlargements, 
because  at  f/64  the  diffraction  patterns  enter  and  the  image  isn't 
sharp.   It  just  has  great  depth  of  field,  which  gives  an  illusion 
of  sharpness. 

Well,  I  think  the  reason  that  I  went  to  the  Art  Center  School 
was  to  teach,  and  the  reason  that  the  Zone  System  was  developed 
was  that  I  found  that  I  couldn't  teach  anything  but  just  the  way  I 
did  it  myself.   And,  as  a  musician  and  teacher,  I  was  trained  that 
you  had  to  find  out  what  the  student  had  to  say  and  help  him  say  it 
his  way.   Because  all  hands  are  different  and  minds  are  different 
and  feelings  are  different,  so  the  function  of  a  good  teacher  is  to 
draw  out,  not  necessarily  to  make  the  student  imitate.   One  of  the 
most  successful  teachers  in  Berkeley,  Miss  Simpson,  taught  with 
two  pianos.   And  that's  one  of  the  most  dangerous  things  you  can  do, 
because  her  students  sounded  just  like  she  did.   She  would  play  a 
phrase  and  they  would  imitate  it.   But  a  teacher  like  Benjamin 
Moore,  for  instance,  would  never  play  for  the  student.   He'd  always 
ask  you,  "Now,  do  you  really  think  that  you  have  fully  developed 
that  phrase?"  etc.   And  would  give  me  other  descriptive  symbols, 
but  would  never  play. 

Frederick  Zech  was  a  pupil  of  Von  Billow.   He  was  the  most 
incredible  technician.   When  he  was  eighty  years  old  he  could  do 
chromatic  double  sixths  which  would  put  your  hair  on  end.   And  he 
would  sometimes  show  off,  you  know.   "I  want  you  to  get  your  double 


Adams:     thirds," — [makes  a  sound]  "rruup,"  straight  chromatic,"  and  your 
double  fourths" — "rruup,"  you  know.   And  I'd  go  home  with  these 
things  in  mind  and  try  to  get  it.   But  when  it  came  to  playing, 
he  would  talk  about  the  playing,  not  play  for  you! 

I  remember  doing  some  Liszt  and  he'd  talk  about  everything 
in  the  world  from  pontifical  moods  to  passion,  to  many  things,  but 
he  never  would  play.  He  certainly  could  play  it.   He  had  this 
ability  as  a  pianist,  but  he  didn't  want  me  to  hear  him  and  imitate 
him.   That  wasn't  the  job.   I  had  to  do  it. 

Teiser:    So  he  had  to  teach  you  basic  technique. 

Adams:     Well,  the  technique  and  the  style  is  very  complicated,  because 
they're  there  and  they  guide  you.   That  was  the  whole  point  of 
getting  the  person  facile — but  it's  so  easy  to  imitate.   Some 
people  play  "by  ear."  They've  heard  something  and  they  can 
imitate  it.   That  isn't  true  individualism  in  music. 

Well,  the  same  thing  in  photography.   You  can  set  up  your 
tripod,  find  the  tripod  holes  in  the  ground  your  predecessor  made, 
set  up  and  do  the  picture,  and  you  may  get  just  as  sharp  an  image, 
and  with  a  lens  of  the  same  focal  length  you'll  get  everything 
optically  the  same. 

Then  comes  the  other  thing — what  kind  of  a  print?   I  mean, 
how  you  carry  the  interpretation.   You  can  lose  the  sense  of  your 
substance,  rock;  you  can  lose  the  sense  of  light.   I  don't  know  if 
I'm  making  any  sense  now.   This  is  getting  a  little  bit  quasi- 

Beauty  or  Therapy 

Adams:     But  the  photograph  can  be  beautiful  and  personal.   I  think  the 

sense  of  beauty  in  photographs  belongs  to  a  romantic  age.   I  think 
the  contemporary  whole  art  spirit  is  really  negative  to  photographic 
expression  in  the  sense  that  I  practice  it  (or  vice  versa) .   Very 
few  people  are  making  what  we  call  beautiful  prints,  where  the 
print  itself  is  a  beautiful  object.   They're  making  images — 
extraordinary,  complex  and  sometimes  very  brilliant  experiments. 
The  image  may  be  interesting,  but  the  print  inadequate.   The  idea 
is  interesting.   The  actual  print  can  be  very  ugly.   And  whether 
the  idea  would  ever  admit  to  a  beautiful  print  being  made  of  it, 
we  don't  know. 


Adams:     And  of  course  a  lot  of  the  philosophy  today  is  camera  as  therapy — 
that  was  one  of  Minor  White's  points;  presuming  that  everybody  has 
problems  and  is  a  bit  on  the  psychologically  sick  side.   You  had  to 
explore  yourself — little  outgoing  motivation.   I  think  that  bothers 
me  more  than  anything.   The  fact  of  doing  something  for  the  outer 
world — as  Beaumont  Newhall  said,  "After  all,  pictures  should  be 
things  to  look  at,  not  just  experiments  in  vacuum  cleaning  your 
psyche."  [Laughter] 

Teiser:    Well,  it's  communication. 

Adams:     It  really  is  communication,  and  the  communication  depends  pretty 

much  on  the  state  of  mind  or  the  condition  of  your  compassion,  and 
I  think  the  trouble  today  is  that  there  is  a  lack  of  compassion, 
which  means  mutual  understanding  and  acceptance.   These  artists 
are  so  flagrantly — well,  I  could  choose  the  word — dominating.   It's 
a  very  difficult  word  to  find.   It's  not  a  matter  of  being  selfish, 
not  a  matter  of  being  opinionated,  but  simply —  I  guess  you'd  use 
the  words  "flamboyant  insistence." 

But  one  of  the  reasons  that  the  painters  have  been  holding 
onto  these  big  galleries  is  that  they're  painting  gigantic  pictures, 
you  see.   Pictures  half  the  size  of  the  wall. 

And  I  saw  in  Pasadena  a  beautifully  hung  show — a  lot  of 
contemporary  things  which  were  just  structures — attached  to  the 
wall;  some  came  out  on  the  floor.  And  we  had  a  joke  here  the 
other  day,  because  there  was  some  photographic  paper  that  had  not 
been  developed.   It  had  just  been  taken  out — in  long  rolls.   And 
of  course  they've  turned  color.   It's  a  kind  of  a  blue  and  a  brown. 
So  I  thought  if  I  could  just  set  that  up  on  a  wall  and  exhibit  it. 
During  the  whole  exhibit,  it  would  be  different  every  day.   It 
would  change,  fade  and  turn  color.   And  it  was  just  as  interesting 
as  some  of  the  [Mark]  Rothko  things.   [Doorbell  rings — people  enter] 

Astronomical  Photography  and  Videotape 

Adams:     Now,  this  man  that's  coming  in  is  at  the  Jet  Propulsion  Laboratory. 
And  he  brings  me  moon  pictures  and  Mars  pictures.   And  he's  a 
fascinating  gentleman  and  very  much  interested  in  photography. 
I'd  like  to  introduce  him,  because  he  represents  another  phase  of 
work  I'm  interested  in,  moon  and  the  Mars  photography.   I  have 
quite  a  collection.   He's  Stanley  Crotch,  Ph.D.   He  is  an  analytical 
chemist  at  the  Jet  Propulsion  Laboratory  in  Pasadena.   They  come  up 
every  once  in  a  while  to  see  us,  and  they're  a  wonderful  family. 


Adams:     But  anyway,  the  description  of  astronomical  photography  in  plain 
and  simple  form  is  complicated  enough,  but  now  we  have  image- 
amplification  and  the  radio  telescope  responses,  plus  satellite 
photography;  the  computer  numerical  system  such  as  used  by  the 
Mariners  where  the  picture  is  scanned  and  instead  of  an  "image" 
they  send  numbers — it's  a  kind  of  a  super-densitometer — the  numbers 
relating  to  the  areas  of  density  of  the  image.  And  these  numbers 
come  in  a  continuous  stream  so  they  can  be  picked  up  by  the 
computer  and  put  in  sequence  and  line.   The  scanner  goes  in  one 
direction  for  the  image.   When  it  reverses  it  transmits  the  read 
ings  of  the  instruments  on  board,  then  it  reverses  direction  again 
for  the  image  and  again  returns  with  instrumental  information. 
When  you  consider  the  whole  electronic  image  is  about  twenty 
millimeters  square,  or  20  by  30  millimeters  (and  there's  hundreds 
of  lines  scanning  in  that  small  area),  and  it  travels  thirty-five 
million  miles  or  fifty  million  miles,  you  have  a  miracle.   As 
somebody  said,  the  energy  received  is  much  less  than  that  used  by 
a  very  small  fly  climbing  up  the  window,  and  yet  these  pictures 
come  out  with  amazing  precision  and  clarity. 

Then  the  image  is  put  in  a  computer  and  translated  into 
actual  tonal  values  and  can  be  "enhanced."  The  acuteness  can  be 
enhanced  by  the  computer.   The  first  moon  pictures  were  produced 
that  way.   You  saw  the  actual  grains  of  sand  and  soil — actually 
fantastic.   Hence  the  illusion  of  extreme  definition  through 
computer  enhancement.   That  can  be  used  in  ordinary  photography 
too,  I  imagine.   It's  really  quite  something! 

Teiser:    I've  been  wondering  about  the  videotape  system,  where  you  put  the 
image  on  tape. 

Adams:     Oh,  that's  a  tremendous  new  field. 

Teiser:    Has  it  any  possible  future  application  to  still  photography? 

Adams:     Right  now  it  is  not  so  much  still  as  moving.   But  there's  no 

reason  it  couldn't  be  still.   The  whole  cassette  concept  has  really 
changed  the  world  of  television.  Your  live  shows  may  be  the 
exception.   For  instance,  we  could  have  a  converter  set  on  which 
we  could  show  about  anything  we  wanted,  black  and  white  or  in 
color.  We  could  rent  or  buy  tape.   And  we  could  have  the  whole 
opera  or  a  travelogue  or  a  scientific  lecture  or  a  dissertation. 
Anything  we  wanted,  we'd  just  put  in  this  device  and  it  is 
revealed  on  the  screen.   I've  seen  some  trials  and  they're 
absolutely  beautiful.   Now  there's  no  reason  why  I  couldn't  go  out 
with  a  video  machine  that  will  give  me  an  image,  you  see,  on  tape — 
a  creative  image.   That  could  be  moving  or  static.   It  could  be  a 
photograph  of  a  photograph!   And  they  did  some  very  fine  things  in 
reproductions  of  works  of  art. 


Adams:     The  first  time  I  saw  this  tape  system  they  used  a  van,  and  they 

did  a  picture  at  Glacier  Point.   It  was  a  television  series,  and  I 
was  in  it,  and  I  had  to  come  out  and  talk.   They  had  focussed  on 
the  landscape,  and  they  used  filters  just  like  I  would.  When 
finished  with  this,  they  said,  "Well,  I  think  we  have  it.  Would 
you  like  to  come  in  and  see  it?"  I  said,  "Come  and  see  what?" 
"Come  see  it  in  this  bus."  In  this  little  room  were  two  or  three 
seats  and  a  screen,  and  we  saw  the  "take"  and  it  was  absolutely 
beautiful!   The  mountains  were  clear  and  sharp.   The  only  thing  is, 
my  face  was  in  shadow.   It  was  out  of  the  exposure  range,  and  they 
could  not  hold  values  in  the  shadows.   We  had  to  do  it  all  over 
again,  with  lights  and  reflections,  and  build  up  the  shadow.   It 
was  a  fantastic  experience;  the  final  results  were  remarkably  well 

All  of  that  is  one  form  of  imagery,  and  photography  is  a  form 
of  imagery.   I  mean,  what  is  a  photograph  but  an  image?  Now  we 
are  doing  three-dimensional  photography.   There  was  a  show  in  San 
Francisco  by  Michael  Bry.   I  was  quite  impressed  with  these  big 
translucent  panels  hanging — moving  in  space  with  images  on  them. 
I  mean,  all  these  things  are  very  moving  if  they're  well  done. 
First,  they're  all  valid  experiments  in  the  laboratory.   Now  how 
many  experiments  are  worth  taking  out  of  the  laboratory  and  showing? 
The  trouble  today  is  they're  showing  too  many  things  that  still 
should  be  in  the  laboratory.   As  if  I  would  rent  Carnegie  Hall  and 
play  the  Clement i  octave  studies,  you  see.  [Laughs]   It's  not  that 
you  wouldn't  have  a  student  gallery,  but  I'm  speaking  of  public 
communication.   Some  things  are  so  far-out,  so  far  undeveloped  that 
they  don't  belong  in  exhibits.   Too  many  of  our  exhibits  today  are 
of  that  character. 

Teiser:    Is  there  any  reason  why  you  couldn't  use  videotape  in  a  still 


Adams:     Well,  no,  the  principle  is — well,  what  is  a  television  camera? 
It's  a  cathode  tube,  which  is  scanning  four  hundred  lines,  or 
something,  per  second.   I  can  put  it  on  tape;  I  can  compose,  as  I 
would  a  movie.   I  don't  see  why  it  couldn't  be  simply  wonderful, 
why  I  couldn't  go  out  with  this  camera  and  a  finder,  and  whether 
this  camera  couldn't  have  the  adjustments  that  we  have  with 
conventional  equipment.   I  don't  know  why  it  couldn't.   They  use 
perfectly  beautiful  optical  lenses,  just  about  the  same  as  camera 
lenses.   I'd  never  know  the  difference  if  I  used  one  on  the  camera. 

I  saw  the  big  CBS  studio  when  I  was  on  the  "Today"  show — the 
lens,  for  instance,  about  that  big  (four  inches  across!)  working 
about  f/2.   Twenty-four  thousand  dollars  for  a  zoom  lens — some 
fantastic  figure — I  don't  think  that's  accurate;  it  may  be  a  little 
less.   But  it  was  a  very  impressive  amount.   And  they're  picking  up 
these  images  in  color  and  when  you  see  them  on  the  monitors  in  the 
television  control  room  they're  really  beautiful.   They're  sharp. 


Adams : 




So  most  of  your  color,  and  even  black  and  white,  transmission  you 
get  is  always  of  lesser  quality  than  what  you'd  get  in  the  station. 
Except  when  you  have  cable  television;  then  you  have,  of  course, 
much  more  accurate  delivery. 

So  we're  getting  into  another  field  now,  but  television  is  an 
image  process.   Being  an  image  process,  it  has  a  direct  relation  to 
photography.   And  maybe  the  future  of  photography  will  be  very 
closely  allied  to  this  technique.   And  I  would  very  much  like  to 
have  a  television  camera  and  do  a  tape  which  would  go  on  a  cassette, 
which  would  be  a  creative  experience. 

Have  you  done  any  motion  pictures? 

Oh  no,  very  little.   I  did  a  series  in  Yosemite  years  ago  with  a 
Zeiss  Moviecon,  which  was  a  beautiful  piece  of  equipment.   It  was 
like  the  Kodak  16  camera,  and  it  had  a  shutter  adjustment  up  to 
1/1000  of  a  second,  so  you  could  take  separate  frames  of  1/1000 
per  second  exposure.   I  did  details  of  water  with  a  very  high 
shutter  speed  on  panatomic  film  and  had  that  developed  in  para- 
phenylene-diamine,  and  had  a  print  made  and  developed  also  in  para- 
phenylene-diamine .   It  was  the  most  beautiful  image  you've  ever 
seen  in  your  life.   Beautiful  color,  warm,  rich,  and  sharp.   It 
burned  up  in  the  fire  we  had  at  Yosemite.   It  was  only  one  hundred 
feet,  but  it  proved  a  point  to  me.   And  then  I  never  got  back  to 

Brett  Weston  is  home, 

Why  don't  you  interview  him,*  maybe 

We  were  going  to  talk  to  Henry  Gilpin — 

Oh  yes,  that's  good.  Well,  Brett  Weston  called  me  and  told  me  he 
was  back. 

I  tried  to  get  hold  of  your  neighbor  here,  Dick  McGraw. 
Oh,  he's  gone,  he's  on  a  trip.  Just  left. 

I'm  thinking  of — Fred  Farr  can  give  you  conservation  ideas — 
so  can  the  Owings .   I  think  you  ought  to  do  a  tape  on  both  Margaret 
and  Nat  [Nathaniel]  Owings.   They're  remarkable  people,  and  they 

*A  series  of  interviews  with  some  friends  and  associates  of 
Ansel  Adams  was  taped.   See  Interview  History. 



have  really  a  big  background  in  everything, 
in  conservation  and  the  environment. 

They'd  be  very  fine 

Adams : 

Adams : 

At  this  moment,  I'm  sort  of  anathema  to  a  large  group  of 
environmentalists  because  I  insist  on  using  common  sense,  and  I 
won't  get  emotional  about  some  of  these  things.   I'm  not  a  push 
button  liberal  or  environmentalist.   I'd  like  to  go  on  record. 
[Laughs]   Things  are  getting  really  out  of  hand,  and  the  backlash 
is  going  to  be  very  distressing.   People  like  Margaret  and  Nat  are 
very  wonderful,  sensible  people. 

You  mentioned  Garrod,  and  we'll  try  to  speak  to  him. 

Yes,  Dick  Garrod.   He's  the  city  planner  at  Monterey  and  he's  good. 
McGraw  is  good.   I  think  he — well,  you  get  another  side.   He's  an 
extremely  critical  person.   We  are  very  old  friends,  dear  friends, 
but  we  scold  each  other,  so  he  probably  will  give  you  some  valuable 
but  slightly  negative  ideas  about  what  I  should  have  done,  and  what 
I  didn't  do,  and  so  on. 

Rosario  Mazzeo,  he's  quite  important. 
Who  is  he? 

He's  a  very  fine  musician,  a  clarinetist,  and  he  was  the  first  desk 
clarinet  with  the  Boston  Symphony,  and  the  personnel  manager  as 
well.   And  he  also  is  a  very  experienced  photographer,  especially 
in  wildlife.   And  he's  going  to  do  more  photography,  I  hope.   Don't 
quote  me — he's  got  a  very  good  eye,  but  he  doesn't  know  yet  how  to 
print.   I  scold  him  all  the  time.   But  both  he  and  his  wife  are 
extraordinary  musicians — she's  a  pianist.   And  Rosario 's  quite  a 
force.   I  mean,  he's  a  very  potent  gentleman.   We've  known  each 
other  now  for  twenty  years,  and  he  can  give  you  all  kinds  of  details 
of  my  life  in  Boston.   I  introduced  the  Lands  to  them,  and  I 
insisted  on  painting  their  dining  room  ceiling  blue,  which  they 
liked  very  much  because  it  made  a  terrible  difference  in  the  Boston 
stuffy  apartments.   This  was  a  kind  of  Italianate  space.   I  said, 
"Well,  this  room  is  kind  of  brown-gray  dim.   If  you  just  take  the 
ceiling  and  paint  it  blue,  you'll  have  a  sense  of  space."  My  God, 
Katy  did  it,  and  it  looked  beautiful.   I  kept  my  fingers  crossed, 
because  I  am  no  decorator!  [Laughs] 

Anyway,  he's  somebody  you  might  see,  and  he's  somebody  that 
really  would  deserve  quite  an  interview  in  himself,  because  he  works 
very  closely  with  the  University  and  at  Tanglewood.   Big  musical 
background,  very  big.   [Interruption] 


Adams:     This  is  Dr.  Stanley  Crotch.*  This  is  the  oral  biography  project 
for  The  Bancroft  Library.   So  if  you  have  anything  to  say  about 
me...  [Laughs]   I've  been  telling  them  about  my  interest  in 
astronomical  and  satellite  photography,  and  I  have  a  total  lack  of 
technical  knowledge  about  it,  but  a  great  interest. 

Crotch:    Well,  you've  sort  of  come  in  at  I  guess  the  highlight  of  the  whole 
thing — the  renaissance,  if  you  will.   And  probably  the  end  of  it 
for  a  while.  We  in  it  can  see  just  another  few  more  years  of  it, 
and  that's  probably  going  to  be  the  end  of  it  for  a  while.  Within 
probably  our  creative  life. 

V.  Adams:  What  about  the  brilliant  things  we  read  about  in  the  paper  the 
other  day? 

Adams:     Supernova,  they  said. 

Crotch:    I  don't  know  much  about  it.   It's  not  that  we  don't  hear  it,  but  we 
really  know  little  more  than  anyone  reading  a  paper.   And  you  know, 
it's  only  when  it  comes  in  the  scientific  journals  that  you  find 
out  a  little  bit  more  in  terms  of  technical  details.   It's  a  very 
specialized — 

Adams:     What  was  exciting  about  this  was  that  this  was  a  real  supernova, 
the  first  one  observed  for  many  years.   Now  with  our  knowledge  of 
radio-astronomy,  they  know  how  to  really  look  at  such  things. 

Crotch:    Well,  the  whole  field  of  communications — when  these  spacecraft  get 
out  there  hundreds  of  millions  of  miles  away,  it's  no  mean  trick 
to  be  able  to  pick  up  their  signal — the  radio  signal.   In  fact, 
that's  the  only  contact  we  have  with  them.   And  the  technology  for 
being  able  to  do  that  is  really  an  extraordinary  one.   Just  simply 
being  able  to  hear  something  transmitting  with  a  few  watts  of  power 
at  several  hundred  million  miles  away. 

Adams:     And  the  energy  that  comes  in  is  about  equivalent  to  a  gnat  slowly 
crawling  up  a  window  pane. 

Crotch:    A  drunken  gnat.  lLaughter"]   No,  the  whole  technology  of  being  able 
to  do  that — and  that  of  course  has  gone  over  into  this  area  of 
radio-astronomy — of  being  able  to  pick  out  these  extremely  weak 
sources — is  incredible. 

Adams:     She  was  asking  about  photography — extending  photography  into 

different  fields.   I  was  talking  about  computer  enhancement,  digital 
frequencies  and — 

*See  also  p.  221. 


Crotch:    I  think  they're  only  just  beginning  now  to  scratch  the  surface. 
It's  really  remarkable  that  the  whole  thing  has  existed,  maybe, 
ten  years.   It's  so  new,  and  it's  changing  so  rapidly  as  more 
people  get  into  it.   It's  very  hard  to  see  it.   One  doesn't  see  it 
yet  as  a  creative  kind  of  thing,  perhaps  because  the  people  who  are 
in  it  are  basically  not  artistic  as  such,  but  are  more  scientific. 

You  know,  the  guys  at  JPL  I the  Jet  Propulsion  Laboratory  in 
Pasadena],  when  I  mentioned  I  might  see  you  this  weekend,  said 
you've  got  to  come  and  see  some  of  the  facilities  they  have  there 
for  doing  exactly  what  you're  saying — computer  processing. 

[End  Tape  9,  Side  1] 

Early  Years  in  Yosemite 

[Interview  VIII  —  29  May  1972] 
[Begin  Tape  9,  Side  2] 

[Mr.  and  Mrs.  Adams.   Mrs.  Adams  alone  at  the  beginning.] 

Teiser:    When  did  you  meet  your  husband? 

V.  Adams:   I  don't  know — 1923  maybe.   I  don't  know.   You  know,  my  father  had 
that  shop  and  studio*  in  Yosemite  Valley.   Mother  died,  and  I  was 
taking  care  of  the  house.   And  we  had  a  piano.   Not  many  people 
in  the  valley  at  that  time  had  a  piano.   This  was  an  old  square 
Chickering.   There  was  a  ranger-naturalist  named  Ansel  Hall,  and 
so  one  day  he  brought  this  young  man  in.   He  said,  "I'm  going  to 
bring  in  my  namesake.   And  he'd  like  to  play  on  your  piano."  And 
I  thought — you  know,  namesake .   To  my  mind,  it  was  the  last  name, 
and  I  kept  wanting  to  say,  "Mr.  Hall."  It  seemed  to  me  to  be  the 
natural  thing  to  do.   It  took  me  awhile  to  realize  it  was  the 
first  name. 

Well  anyway,  Ansel  was  acting  as  custodian  at  the  LeConte 
Memorial  in  the  valley,  and  his  custom  was  to  take  photographs  for 
a  month  after  this  summer  in  the  valley,  and  then  go  back  home  to 
San  Francisco,  and  he'd  spend  weeks  developing  all  the  pictures 
he'd  made.   You  know,  there  was  no  darkroom  in  Yosemite  then.   That 
was  just  in  the  bathroom,  you  know — things  were  simple  like  that. 

*The  Best  Studio.   Mrs.  Adams's  father  was  Harry  C.  Best,  the 
artist,  who  established  the  studio  in  1902.   He  died  in  1936. 


V.  Adams:   Then  he'd  go  back  to  practicing  again.   He  used  to  practice  eight 
hours  a  day  in  fall  and  winter  so  that — well,  when  he  was  really 
going  on  his  practicing,  he'd  start  in  the  morning — his  father 
would  leave  for  the  office  about  eight-thirty — and  then  he'd  go 
into  the  living  room  and  practice.   (This  was  in  San  Francisco.) 
And  about  ten- thirty  he'd  go  out  in  the  kitchen  and  he'd  make  tea 
for  his  mother  and  his  aunt  and  himself — that  gave  him  a  break, 
you  see — and  then  he'd  go  back  until  half  past  eleven  or  twelve, 
and  then  it  was  lunchtime,  and  then  he'd  practice  in  the  afternoon 

V .  Adams : 

V.  Adams: 

V.  Adams: 

Well  anyway,  to  go  back  to  Yosemite,  he  had  no  piano  up  there, 
and  he  was  delighted  at  the  idea  of  having  one — not  to  practice  on 
but  to  sit  and  play  a  little  bit.   And  it  took  me  quite  awhile 
before  I  realized  that  it  wasn't  only  the  piano  that  brought  him 
down  to  the — [laughter]   Because  I  just  really  wasn't  emotionally 
ready  to  get  interested  in  anybody,  and  didn't  believe  anybody 'd 
be  interested  in  me. 

So  he'd  come  down — it's  about  a  mile,  mile  and  a  quarter, 
maybe — from  the  LeConte  Lodge  to  the  old  village.   He  came  down 
fairly  often.   He  used  to  make  the  excuse  that  he  had  to  go  over 
to  the  government  warehouse  to  get  something,  and  they  used  to 
tease  him  about  that.   It  was  his  excuse  to  get  out  and  do  something 
else.  [Laughter] 

So  that's  when  I  first  met  him — and  sort  of  the  second  year, 
I  was  amazed  that  he  was  really  interested  in  me.   It  took  me  awhile 
to  really  respond.   I  just  thought  I  wasn't  ready  for  it.   And  then 
when  we  did  get  engaged,  I  went  down  to  see  his  family  in  San 
Francisco  and  visited  with  them.   Dad  and  I  lived  in  San  Diego  in 
the  winter  time,  and  so  we'd  stop  by  on  the  way  up  or  down.   That's 
the  first  time  I  can  think  of  meeting  his  family. 

Was  he  photographing  then? 

Well,  he'd  go  out  for  a  month  on  a  trip  after  he'd  had  the  summer 
in  the  valley  and  photograph,  and  then  he'd  come  back  with  the 
pictures.   He'd  go  with  some  other  young  man  and  a  donkey  or  two. 

At  some  point  fairly  early  he  had  started  making  prints  for  your — 

Shop,  yes.  He  did  that.   [Speaks  to  A. A.]  Are  you  ready  now, 
darling?  All  right. 

[In  the  distance]   Not  quite. 

Yes,  he  did.   I  mean,  after  we  got  engaged.   Here  was  an  opportunity 
to  make  a  little  money.   Nobody  had  any  money  in  those  days,  you 


V.  Adams:   [Aside]  Ansel,  I'm  going  to  go  in  about  one-half  minute,  unless 
you  can  think  of  something  I  can  do  for  you.   I  can  stay — 

Adams:     You  can  help  by  correcting  my  dates. 

V.  Adams:   No.   [To  Teiser]   Ask  me  some  more,  I'm  full  of  facts. 

Teiser:    What  were  the  pictures  he  started  making  that  you  sold? 

V.  Adams:   Oh,  of  Yosemite.   Not  so  much  of  the  high  country,  because  I  don't 
think  Dad  thought  they  would  sell  as  well.   Pictures  of  the  valley, 
and  nice  delicate  little  scenes  in  the  forest. 

Teiser:    Small  prints? 

V.  Adams:   Yes.   Some  were  four  by  five  mounted  on  a  bigger  card,  and  some 
I  guess  were  maybe  eight  by  ten  and  ten  by  twelve,  but  nothing 
like  these  big  things  at  all. 

Teiser:    Do  any  of  those  still  exist?  Do  you  have  any  of  them? 

V.  Adams:   I  don't  think  that  I  have.   I  don't  know.   We'll  have  to  ask 

Ansel.   It  may  be  that  there  are  some.   I  know  Nancy  Newhall  tried 
to  find  all  sorts  of  things  from  early  days  [when  she  was  gathering 
material  for  The  Eloquent  Light] . 

Teiser:    Incidentally,  you  asked  if  we'd  like  to  see  some  of  those  papers, 
and  maybe  sometime  we  would. 

V.  Adams:   Well,  I  know  she  sent  back  a  lot  of  things.   We'll  have  to  ask  Jim 
where  he  filed  them  away.*  There  were  many  things  she  took  east 
right  in  the  beginning.   Then  they  had  a  big  fire  in  Rochester,  and 
there  was  smoke  damage  on  some  things,  and  things  that  I  didn't 
know  what  had  happened  to  them  turned  up  to  be  safe  and  came  back 
west  again. 

But  I  know  there  are  lots  and  lots  of  things,  and  I've  got 
pictures  and  pictures  and  pictures. 

Teiser:    We  were  speaking  this  morning  to  Mr.  Mazzeo... 

V.  Adams:   The  Mazzeos  knew  Ansel  when  he'd  go  to  Boston,  and  I  didn't  get 

east.   I  had  to  stay  here  and  run  the  shop  in  Yosemite,  so  I  didn't 
get  out  very  much.   He  said  he's  got  a  beautiful  tape  of  Ansel's 
playing  that  someday  he's  going  to  try  to  put  together.   He  can't 
do  it  now  because  of  his  hands — arthritis. 

*A  lot  of  material  is  now  in  my  vault.  [A. A.] 


V.  Adams:   [Calling]  Ansel,  come  back  now;  it's  your  turn.   [To  A. A. ,  who  had 
come  in]  Was  that  '23  when  you  and  I  met,  when  Ansel  Hall 
introduced  us? 

Adams:     No,  I  think  it  was  before  that.   I  first  came  there  in  1916.   I  had 
been  laid  up  with  the  flu,  and  I  read  [James  M. ]  Hutchings's  book, 
In  the  Heart  of  the  Sierras,  and  got  very  excited.   The  family  was 
going  to  take  a  vacation,  and  I  said,  "Well,  why  not  go  to  Yosemite?" 

V.  Adams:  Was  that  the  first  time  they  visited  Yosemite? 

Adams:     Yes,  1916. 

V.  Adams:   Because  they  went  almost  every  year  afterwards.* 

Adams:     None  of  the  family  had  been  there  earlier  except  my  grandmother  had 
in  1870.   We  were  there  for  the  first  vacation.   I  think  it  was  four 
weeks  long. 

Teiser:    Was  it  as  good  as  Hutchings  said  it  was  going  to  be? 

Adams:     Oh,  much  core  so.   Yes.   But  Hutchings  had  a  definite  control, 

though — a  mood.   We  took  walks  up  in  the  Little  Yosemite  Valley, 
and  then  up  the  Yosemite  Falls  trail,  and  I  remember  seeing  Joe 
LeConte  running  down  with  his  family  one  afternoon. 

Teiser:    Helen  LeConte**  said  that  he  said  that  you  had  met  in  1916;  she 
didn't  remember,  but  he  said  you  had. 

Adams:     It  was  on  the  Yosemite  Falls  trail  in  1916. 
V.  Adams:   I  didn't  realize  that. 

Adams:     We  went  to  the  Big  Trees.   We  then  left  by  way  of  Miami  Lodge, 
stayed  there,  and  then  on  to  Raymond. 

V.  Adams:   They  went  by  auto  stage. 

Adams:     Coming  in  you'd  take  the  Pullman  at  eight  o'clock  in  the  morning 

from  Oakland.   You'd  get  to  Merced  around  noon,  and  they'd  connect 
the  car  to  the  Yosemite  Valley  Railroad,  and  then  you'd  puff  up  the 
Merced  River  to  El  Portal,  which  was  hotter  than  the  hinges  of  the 
hereafter!   We  stayed  overnight  at  the  El  Portal  Hotel. 

*In  1917,  '18,  '19,  and  '20.  [A. A.] 

**Joseph  N.  LeConte 's  daughter.   See  her  Reminiscences,  a  Sierra 

Club  interview  completed  in  1977. 


V.  Adanis:   They  arranged  it  so  they  got  to  see  lots  of  scenery. 
Adams:     We  came  in  early  in  the  morning  in  big  white  buses. 
V.  Adams:   Well,  it's  very  beautiful  coming  in  the  morning. 

Adams:     Yes,  marvelous.   And  we  arrived  at  Camp  Curry.  And  an  old  fake, 
Mr.  [D.A.]  Curry,  roaming  around,  greeting  people  and  shouting  at 
night  for  the  fire  fall.   It  was  real  circus  stuff.   And  we  had 
tent  #305— 

V.  Adams:   Oh,  you  did?  [Laughter] 

Adams:     And  I  think  it  was  that  afternoon  that  I  fell  off  a  stump.   I  got 
up  on  a  stump  which  was  rotten.   I  was  trying  to  take  a  picture  of 
Half  Dome.   I  fell  off,  and  on  the  way  down  I  clicked  the  camera — 
a  little  Number  One  Brownie — and  got  a  completely  upside  down 
picture.   Mr.  [A.C.]  Pillsbury  developed  the  film — couldn't 
understand  how  that  picture  was  upside  down.   "What  did  you  do — 
hold  it  over  your  head?"  And  I  said,  "No,  I  fell  off  a  stump." 
I  think  from  that  time  on  he  thought  I  was  a  liar.   I  knew  him  for 
many  years . 

Teiser:    Who  else,  however,  could  have  got  a  picture  at  all?  [Laughs] 
Adams:     It's  a  good  picture.   I've  got  the  negative  somewhere.  [Laughter] 

And,  oh,  I  don't  know... we  did  all  the  things.   And  then  I 
came  back  with  my  mother  the  next  year,  and  that's  when  I  met  Mr. 
[Francis]  Holman  and  went  on  my  first  camping  trip.   Bessie  Pond  and 
the  Admiral. . . 

V.  Adams:   Admiral  Pond. 

Adams:     I  forget.   Bessie  [Elizabeth  Keith]  Pond  and  a  Miss  Smith,  a  Scotch 
lady.   I  guess  the  admiral  [Charles  F.  Pond]  was  there,  and  some 
other  friend.   It  was  raining;  and,  oh,  Merced  Lake  was  very  dismal. 
It  cleared  up  that  night,  and  the  next  morning  I  remember  climbing 
up  the  ridge.  We  camped  between  Lake  Merced  and  Lake  Washburn  at  a 
bend  in  the  river,  and  a  big  glaciated  ridge,  right  out  to  the  north. 
I  climbed  up  at  dawn,  and  there  were  all  those  crags  under  Mount 
Clark,  all  shining  in  the  sunrise,  and  that  "did  it."   [Pause]  That 
entrapped  me  forever.  We  didn't  climb  Mount  Clark  that  year.  We 
went  to  Lake  Washburn  and  Babcock  Lake  and  Fletcher  Creek  Dome  and 
returned  to  Yosemite  Valley. 


Mountain  Trips  with  Francis  Holman 

Adams:     Then  the  next  year  I  was  there  with  my  mother,  who  stayed  at  Camp 
Curry,  and  Mr.  Holman  and  I  went  on  many  trips.   And  an  old 
friend,  Mr.  Schu,  a  farmer,  was  with  us.  And  oh  boy,  we  did  some 
real  scrambles.   We  got  up  at  dawn  and  got  going  with  our  donkeys. 
We  would  get  in  at  dark  and  set  up  camp,  and  dinner  was  a  mixture 
of  ants  and  cinders  and  hash  or  whatever  it  was. 

V.  Adams:   Who  did  the  cooking? 

Adams:     Everybody  sort  of  pitched  in.  We  had  nothing  but  coffee  cans  with 
wires  as  holders;  we  had  one  frying  pan,  the  coffee  pot,  and 
several  kettles — tin  cans  only.   And  of  course,  they'd  get  all 
blackened.   So  it  was  quite  a  job  to  keep  it  clean.  And  then  we'd 
travel  or  climb  all  day. 

V.  Adams:   Where  did  you  go — Merced  Lake? 

Adams:     Oh  yes.   Well,  Merced  Lake  and  Tuolomne  Pass  and  the  Young  Lakes. 
One  year,  I  forget,  we  got  stuck  out  in  the  first  snowstorm  of 
the  season  in  October.   We  had  to  get  out  very  fast  so  nobody  got 
stuck.   Went  all  the  way  from  Young  Lakes  to  Yosemite — 

V.  Adams:   That's  a  long  way.   That's  a  hard  day. 

Adams:     We  were  a  tired  bunch  of  animals  and  people.   It  was  terrible. 

That  was  more  than  twenty-eight  miles.   And  the  first  four  or  five 
miles  was  through  about  a  foot  of  fresh  snow.   And  we  were  scared 
to  death,  because  if  the  snow  got  too  deep,  the  animals  would 
flounder  in  it,  and  we'd  be  taking  everything  off  and  junking  it 
and  trying  to  see  how  far  we  could  take  the  animals  without  any 
thing  in  their  packs. 

And  on  another  trip  we  went  over  Isberg  Pass  to  the  Minarets, 
and  all  around  the  Minarets,  Mount  Ritter,  Iron  Mountain,  and  Koip 
Pass.   In  fact,  we  were  often  out  of  the  park,  in  national  forest 
areas,  but  never  got  to  the  southern  Sierras,  never  went  below 
Minaret  Summit. 

Ted  Organ:  Were  you  on  the  first  ascent  of  any  of  those  peaks? 

Adams:     Oh,  I  climbed  one  of  the  Minarets — but  I  don't  think  it  was  an 
important  climb. 

V.  Adams:   That  was  before  people  did  formal  climbing. 

Ansel  bringing  in  the  biscuits." 
Camp  on  summit  of  Cooper  Pass, 
California,  1926.   Sierra  Club 

Left  to  right:  Admiral  Charles 
Fremont  Pond,  Helen  LeConte, 
May  Isabel  Wocker,  May  Elizabeth 
Plehn,  Ansel  Adams,  four  donkeys, 

Photograph  by  J.  Malcolm  G^eany 
Ansel  Adams,  Juneau,  Alaska,  1947 

Photograph  by  Christine  L.  Reid 

Ansel  Adams,  guest  speaker, 
Annual  meeting  of  the  Friends 
of  The  Bancroft  Library, 
May  14,  1967. 


AdaEs:     I've  got  my  name  in  a  number  of  registers.   At  first  there  was  no 
record  kept;  I  can't  believe  that  people  hadn't  climbed  a  lot, 
especially  the  shepherds.   They  were  in  the  country  for  months  at 
a  time.   And  all  the  packers,  they  thought  we  were  just  crazy  to 
walk.   The  people  would  go  along  the  trail  riding  horses.  They 
were  called  "horse  muckers."  The  real  elite  was  the  campers,  going 
along  with  the  donkeys,  walking. 

V.  Adams :   What  were  you? 

Adams:     I  was  the  elite.   I  was  just  walking  on  the  ground  and  had  a 

donkey  or  a  mule  for  my  outfit.   But  the  ones  who  rode,  with  guides 
and  things,  they  were  "intruders"  [laughs]  and  "softies." 

We  climbed  all  kinds  of  things.   We  had  a  very  dangerous 
ascent  of  the  gorge  east  of  Lake  Washburn.   And  our  technique  was 
just  scrambling — we  had  a  World  War  I  trench  pick,  and  long  window 
sash  cords — you  know,  the  kind  that  hold  up  the  weights  in  windows — 
which  at  that  time  were  the  strongest  material  available.  We'd 
just  tie  ourselves  together  with  those  and  climb  together.'   Of 
course,  if  you  ever  fell  on  it,  you  would  just  cut  yourself  right 
in  two;  they  were  only  about  one-eighth  of  an  inch  thick!   We  had 
no  knowledge  of  climbing  and  we  came  so  close  to  disaster  so  many 
times,  I'd  hate  to  tell  you. 

And  the  worst  of  all  was  the  gorge  in  the  southeast  end  of 
Lake  Washburn.   It's  just  a  fault  line  on  a  cliff  leading  up  to  a 
little  lake  at  the  top  (it's  about  sixteen  hundred  to  eighteen 
hundred  feet  long).   Holman  said,  "There's  a  couple  of  small  chock 
stones  in  there."  Chock  stones  are  stones  that  have  fallen  down 
and  wedged  in  the  gorge,  which  was  about  70°  to  80°  steep. 

So  we  started  out  on  a  real  scramble.   We  didn't  think  anything 
of  it  at  all;  at  first  I  could  just  go  all  day  long  climbing.   I 
guess  it  was  kind  of  a  tough  place,  and  we  came  upon  the  first 
chock  stone.   And  there  was  no  way  of  getting  under  it,  so  we  had  to 
go  up  the  face  of  the  gorge  wall.   The  top  of  the  face  of  the  wall 
in  that  case  was  about  as  high  as  this  ceiling,  sixteen  feet.   But 
at  this  angle,  if  you  let  go,  you'd  go  down  about  two  hundred  feet. 
Looking  down  was  a  bit  distracting. 

We  got  over  that,  and  I  began  to  tremble;  "How  do  we  get  back?" 
Because,  you  know,  climbing  is  one  thing,  and  getting  down  is 
another.   And  then  there  was  another  chock  stone  and  a  bigger  one. 
Mr.  Holman  said,  "Well,  we  can't  go  back,  we've  got  to  go  on."  So 
we  had  to  start  climbing  this  wall  again,  and  it  was  really  pretty 
dangerous  this  time.   And  of  course,  no  one  had  an  idea  of  how  to 
belay  and  protect  yourself. 


Adams:     I'd  get  ahead  (I  was  a  little  more  agile),  and  then  I'd  sort  of 

help  pull  Mr.  Holman  up,  but  if  he  fell  I  couldn't  have  held  him. 
We  got  up  over  that  difficulty  and  thought  we  were  almost  up,  and 
then  there  was  another  chock  stone,  and  this  was  the  big  one.   And 
that  vertical  wall  was  something!   It  was  about  one  hundred  feet 
high — straight  up! 

And  we  got  over  that,  and  we  knew  there  weren't  any  more, 
because  we  could  see  the  top.   But  talk  about  being  scared!  The 
feeling  of  being  trapped  at  a  late  hour,  and  no  place  to  lie  down; 
it  was  so  steep  it  was  hard  even  to  sit. 

V.  Adams:   Where  were  you? 

Adams:     This  gorge  east  of  Lake  Washburn. 

We  finally  came  out  on  top.   Glory  Hallelujah!   We  decided  we 
wouldn't  do  anything  like  that  again  without  knowing  what  we  were 
getting  into. 

Of  course,  there  wouldn't  be  anything  to  it  today.   I  mean, 
you  would  protect  against  exposure.   If  you  couldn't  give  a  person 
a  safe  body  belay,  you'd  drive  in  a  piton  and  secure  the  rope 

V.  Adams:   They  didn't  have  equipment  then. 

Adams:     Nobody  knew  anything  about  real  climbing  in  those  days. 

Teiser:    Who  was  Mr.  Holman? 

Adams:     Frank  [Francis]  Holman  was  a  mining  engineer  who  lost  an  eye  at  the 
age  of  twelve,  and  he  had,  with  his  one  very  sharp  eagle  eye, 
remarkable  vision.   He'd  been  in  South  America,  and  I  guess  he'd 
done  pretty  well  for  himself.   He  was  an  old  bachelor.   He  could  be 
very  crusty.   But  a  very  distinguished  man. 

V.  Adams:  How  did  you  and  he  get  together? 

Adams:  I  think  it  was  through  Bessie  Pond. 

V.  Adams:  He  wasn't  at  LeConte  Memorial  first? 

Adams :  Oh  no . 

V.  Adams:  You  took  that  together? 

Adams:     I  took  that  myself  first  for  several  years,  and  he  came  and  stayed 
with  me. 


V.  Adams: 

V.  Adams: 

Adams : 

V.  Adams 
Adams : 
V.  Adams: 

Adams : 
V.  Adams: 

Adams : 


LeConte  Memorial.   He  had  his  quarters  there  in  summer. 

And  then,  I  forget  where  he'd  spend  the  winters. 

And  then  my  aunt,  my  father's  brother's  second  wife,  met  him; 
she  was  a  professional  nurse.   And  they  became  companions. 

She'd  read  to  him  and  write  his  letters  because  he  couldn't  see  too 
well  to  write. 

This  was  after  his  strenuous  climbing  days.   His  eye  was  giving  out. 

So  I  was  taking  care  of  LeConte  Memorial  for  several  years,  and 
then  he  joined  with  me,  and  finally  he  and  my  aunt  said  they'd  take 
it  over.   Then  I  went  with  the  LeConte  family  for  two  summers — or  was 
it  three? — to  the  southern  Sierra. 

They  could  camp  behind  the  lodge  at  that  time — 

Oh  yes,  we  had  a  nice  little  camp  there. 

They  allowed  it  at  that  time,  to  camp  right  behind  the  lodge,  behind 
LeConte  Memorial.   Now  you  can't. 

We  had  a  regular  camp  set  up:   kitchen,  camp  stove, 
the  donkey  out  in  Stoneman  Meadow. 

We  would  stake 

Finally  they  even  got  to  taking  a  cook  out  with  them,  Aunt  Beth 
[Adams]  and  Mr.  Holman.   They'd  come  down  here  to  Carmel  for  the 
winter,  and  they'd  take  a  house  that  had  two  wings.   They  each  had 
to  live  their  own  lives,  and  yet  she  was  a  good  companion  to  him. 

We  took  her  on  trips.   One  night  up  at  Triple  Creek  Fork,  the 
coyotes  let  loose.   She  came  over  from  the  designated  women's  camp, 
which  was  about  (very  properly)  three  hundred  feet  away,  about 
midnight.   It  was  moonlit  and  these  coyotes  were  just  going  strong! 
And  she  said,  "I  don't  care,  but  I  am  going  to  move  in  with  you 
men.   I'm  scared."  [Laughter] 

Then  we  lost  the  donkey.   The  donkey  ran  down  Triple  Creek  and 
away  home,  and  they  can  run  faster  than  we  can  if  they  want  to  run, 
and  Mr.  Holman  had  a  marvelous  string  of  repetitive  profanity.   The 
whole  canyon  ringing  with  a  combination  of  entreaties  to  the 
donkey  and  consignments  of  the  donkey  to  inconceivable  areas. 


Adams:     Once  the  donkey  got  stuck  on  a  steep  cliff;  we  had  an  awful  time 
getting  it  out  of  trouble.   Tied  it  to  a  belay  with  a  hack  rope, 
and  it  fell  down  several  times.   It  was  belayed  by  the  wall.  We'd 
get  it  to  its  feet,  and  it  would  scramble  along  the  very  steep 

Now  there's  a  trail  indicated  there.   But  that  was  a  really 
tough  place  to  get  up  with  an  animal.   Of  course,  I'd  take  every 
thing  off  the  animal  and  carry  things  up.   The  work  we  did  was  just 
tremendous — just  sheer  physical  toil. 

Perils  and  Close  Calls 

Adams:     For  instance,  we'd  climb  Red,  Gray,  and  Mount  Clark  in  one  day.  We'd 
leave  camp  about  four- thirty  in  the  morning.   Those  are  three  peaks 
in  the  Merced  Group.   That  was  a  pretty  strenuous  deal,  you  know. 
Lost  the  camp  (many  people  lost  Illilouette  Valley) ,  found  it  about 
ten  o'clock  at  night! 

That's  the  time  we  had  the  fall  on  Red  Peak.   We  were  going  up 
with  the  old  ice  pick  and  the  window  sash  cords,  chopping  little 
steps.   It  was  frozen  snow,  it  wasn't  ice,  and  about  a  thousand 
steep  feet  of  it.   About  eight  hundred  feet  up,  I  slipped.   And  of 
course  I  started  to  slide — it  was  about  60°  to  70°  steep — pulled 
Mr.  Holman  off  his  feet,  and  we  both  went  down.   He  was  yelling, 
"Keep  your  feet  front — front!  Don't  roll!"  And  finally  we  got 
down.   We  were  sliding  face-down,  and  if  you  just  touched  your  hands 
to  the  frozen  snow  it  would  take  the  skin  off.  We  were  really  going 
awfully  fast.  And  there  was  a  whole  lot  of  rock  and  snow  piled  at 
the  bottom,  and  we  went  right  through  that — but  missed  all  the  rocks! 
Mr.  Holman  sort  of  sat  there  and  rubbed  the  snow  out  of  his  eyes  and 
said,  "Well,  we'll  go  right  up  again."  That  was  the  best  philosophy. 
So  back  we  went. 

Then  we  came  down  the  Red  Peak  ridge,  and  kept  on  the 
connecting  ridge,  and  up  to  Gray  Peak  and  down  that  connecting  ridge, 
over  to  Mount  Clark.  Mount  Clark  was  very  steep  stone  and  snow  on 
the  eastern  side.  And  the  top  of  it  was  a  little  broken  crag.   It's 
one  of  the  great  Yosemite  mountains.   When  we  got  down  to  the  base 
of  Mount  Clark,  we  came  out  three  miles  below  camp,  which  was  worse 
because  we  had  to  go  uphill — up  the  trail — to  get  to  our  camp.   And 
everything  looks  alike  in  that  place  in  the  lodge  pole  forest. 

So,  let's  see.   What  else  did  Mr.  Holman  and  I  do?  Well,  we 
climbed  everything  around  Yosemite.   He  was  a  great  ornithologist. 
One  harrowing  experience  was  in  the  Lyell  Fork  of  the  Merced.   He 


Adams:     had  a  little  collector's  gun.   He  just  hated  to  shoot  birds,  but  the 
Academy  of  Sciences  gave  him  this  commission  for  collecting.   And  he 
had  a  can  of  arsenic  salts  with  which  to  cure  the  skins.  We  would 
shoot  a  bird  and  feel  very  sad  about  it.   He  would  very  carefully 
skin  it,  and  save  all  the  feathers  and  everything,  and  then  rub  the 
inside  of  the  skin  with  the  arsenic  salt.   And  then  wrap  it  all  up 
in  some  material  so  that  it  wouldn't  dry  out.  He  kept  the  arsenic 
in  a  large  salt  shaker. 

Well,  one  night  at  a  campfire,  we  were  frying  some  fish  or  hash 
and  it  was  quite  dark.   I  got  hold  of  this  salt  shaker,  you  see,  and 
I  put  some  salt  on  the  fish.   And  at  that  time,  he  threw  some  twigs 
on  the  fire  and  the  fire  came  up,  and  I  said,  "This  is  funny.   The 
salt  looks  green."  I'd  gotten  hold  of  the  arsenic,  and  I've  never 
seen  anybody  so  disturbed  as  Frank  Holman!  He  just  took  that 
arsenic  and  hid  it .   But  that  shows  how  easy  it  is  to  have  something 
happen  to  you.   He  just  had  it  in  a  salt  shaker  and,  oh  my! 

V.  Adams:   Like  the  time  that  you  were  at  Merced  Lake  and  you  had  a  tummy  ache. 

Adams:     If  I'd  known  it  was  an  appendicitis,  I  would  have  died  of  fright. 
I  was  in  terrible  pain.   Drank  a  whole  bucket  of  water,  all  alone. 
A  storm  was  coming  up.   I  was  not  expected  back  for  four  days.   I'd 
been  up  to  Isberg  Pass  and  Isberg  Peak,  came  late  to  the  camp,  went 
down  to  get  some  water  at  the  river,  and  it  was  just  like  a  knife 
sticking  in  me.  I  thought,  "Oh,  ptomaine  poisoning."  I  felt  terrible, 
you  know.   All  of  a  sudden.   I'd  eaten  nothing  but  grape  nuts  and  a 
can  of  condensed  milk.   I  was  on  the  simplest  possible  diet.   I  had 
this  fever  coming  on,  and  this  pain,  and  the  only  thing  I  could  think 
of  to  do  was  to  drink  water.   So  I  just  got  a  bucket  of  water  and 
went  up  to  our  lean-to  and  just  lay  there  and  drank;  all  instinctive 
ly.   And  then  about  midnight  the  fever  broke,  and  I  was  drenched, 
and  it  was  thundering  outside  and  the  lean-to  was  leaking.   I  was  so 
weak  for  a  day,  I  could  barely  move  around.   I  tried  to  get  home  but 
could  not  manage  it. 

V.  Adams:   You  said  you  went  to  the  river  and  the  bridge  was  under  water. 

Adams:     Yes,  the  log  we  used  to  get  over  the  river  was  under  water  for  eight 
days.   I  never  would  have  made  it  home.   That  was  for  certain.   So 
I  had  the  good  sense  not  to  get  panicked,  and  spent  the  night,  and 
that's  when  I  drank  the  water. 

Then  the  next  day  I  just  realized,  "Well,  I'm  all  right. 
There's  no  more  pain."  The  day  after,  I  returned  to  Yosemite. 
was  what  I  got  at  Taos  in  1930. 

V.  Adams:   When  you  knew  it  was  appendicitis. 



Adams:     I  got  exactly  the  same  thing  in  the  morning — terrible  pains.   And 
the  doctor  came  and  put  an  ice  pack  on  me  and  took  me  off  to 
Albuquerque  for  an  operation.   But  I  know  if  I  had  known  in  Yosemite 
it  was  appendicitis,  I'd  have  simply  died  of  fright. 

Of  course,  the  other  tragic  thing  was,  say,  if  I'd  had  a  pill; 
say  I'd  taken  a  cascara  or  something,  that  might  have  killed  me.   So 
they'd  come  up  and  find  me  dead  of  natural  causes  in  a  wet  lean-to. 

Teiser:    Did  you  often  go  out  alone? 
Adams:     Oh  yes.  That  was  very  bad  to  do. 

V.  Adams:   They  didn't  really  talk  about  that  as  much  as  they  do  now;  people 
are  prepared  now. 

Adams:     You  always  tell  people  where  you're  going.   But  I  just  told  my  aunt, 
"I'm  going  to  Merced  Lake.   I'm  going  to  try  to  climb  Mount  Clark, 
and  I'll  be  back  in  three  days."  Well,  I  got  so  enthusiastic.   Met 
some  trail  workers,  and  I  asked  them  if  they'd  tell  my  aunt  that 
I'm  going  to  stay  two  more  days.   I  went  up  Isberg  Pass.   So  if  I 
had  not  shown  up  people  would  have  come  for  me.   They  would  have 
probably  given  me  a  day's  leeway  and  then  called  the  rangers  or 
something.   But  how  do  you  know  where  anybody  is?  You  just  go  to 
Merced  Lake  country  and  start  climbing.  My  God.   You  never  could 
find  anybody,  unless  they  were  yelling  or  had  built  a  fire  or  made 
smoke  in  daytime. 

So  now  we  go  off  on  well-known  routes.   I  wouldn't  mind  taking 
a  trip  specifically  to  Half  Dome  alone,  if  I  could  describe  where  I 
was  going — pinpoint  it.   Remember  that  time  with  the  Sierra  Club 
when  I  said  I  was  going  to  the  Second  Recess  of  Mono  Creek?   (There's 
four  canyons  called  the  Mono  Recesses.)   I  was  going  up  the  Second 
Recess  and  cross  over  and  come  down  the  First  Recess.   And  take  my 
camera,  of  course.   I  promised  I  wouldn't  go  anywhere  else.   The 
only  thing  I  forgot  was — I  hadn't  looked  carefully  at  the  map;  the 
Second  Recess  was  twice  as  long  as  the  first  one.  So  I  thought  I 
climbed  awfully  high,  and  I  got  over  a  pass  and  went  down  about  two 
thousand  feet  and  looked  up.   And  there  was  the  Seven  Gables — 
mountains  to  the  south — and  I  realized  what  I'd  done — I'd  crossed 
the  whole  divide.   I'd  gone  over  the  main  divide,  you  see.   It's 
just  like  having  two  canyons;  instead  of  crossing  over  into  the 
First  Recess,  I  went  all  the  way  up  the  Second  Recess — a  real 
struggle!   And  the  last  bit  of  it  was  something  terrible.   I  had  a 
bad  time  getting  back  to  camp — tried  one  "draw"  after  another 
because  of  cliffs  on  the  other  side.   I  never  did  get  to  the  First 
Recess.   I  got  back  to  the  Second  Recess,  because  the  First  Recess 
was  too  far  to  the  west. 


Adams:     I  got  home  about  midnight,  very  sheepish.   Because  I'd  given  people 
a  lecture  on  doing  exactly  what  you  said  you'd  do,  you  see.   And  of 
course  I  hadn't  used  my  brain;  I'd  done  exactly  the  opposite.   I'd 
gone  out  of  the  proper  canyon — and  there  again,  if  anything  had 
happened,  nobody  would  have  found  me.   They  would  have  gone  up  and 
looked  at  the  map  and  crossed  over  and  looked  all  around  that  area, 
which  I  never  was  in!   I  was  at  least  five  to  eight  miles  off  my 
stated  route! 

V.  Adams:   It  wasn't  your  fate  to  die  in  the  mountains. 

Adams:     No.   And  I  nearly  fell  off  several  things.   The  time  the  piton  came 
out  when  I  practiced  climbing  at  Benson  Lake. 

V.  Adams:   Yes.   That  was  one  of  the  worst  things. 

Adams:     They  had  a  rock  climbing  practice,  and  Glen  Dawson  was  holding  the 

rope  down  in  the  meadow.   It  was  a  very  long  rope — a  light  rope  that 
went  through  a  piton.   It  was  set  between  a  great  big  rock,  twice 
as  big  as  this  table,  laying  against  the  cliff  on  a  ledge.  They'd 
driven  this  big  piton  between  the  cliff  and  rock  all  the  way.   The 
rope  ran  through  it.   People  would  climb  and  get  up  fifty  or  eighty 
feet  and  then  give  up  and  be  eased  down  on  the  rope. 

V.  Adams:   Everybody  was  learning  from  it. 

Adams:     And  they'd  fall  on  the  rope,  you  see,  and  the  man  in  the  meadow 
would  hold  them;  then  they'd  slide  down  or  start  over  again. 

Well,  it  was  about  two  hundred  feet — 180  feet  high,  I  guess, 
with  a  lot  of  sharp  rocks  at  the  bottom.   And  I  failed  it.   I 
couldn't  do  it  twice.   I  asked  Glen  Dawson  if  he  would  hold  the  rope 
once  more.  I  just  felt  I  couldn't  let  this  thing  beat  me.   Then  I 
got  up  nearly  to  the  top,  and  I  was  terribly  tired,  and  I  rested  by 
leaning  forward  on  the  ledge.   It  was  an  all  vertical  climb.   As  I 
leaned  my  weight  on  my  arm,  I  heard  a  tinkle  and  a  sliding  sound, 
and  down  comes  the  piton  with  the  rope.   And  the  rope  catches  over 
a  point  and  sticks.   If  the  rope  had  fallen  it  would  have  dragged  me 
off,  because  it  was  pretty  heavy,  you  know — a  hundred  feet  or  more 
of  rope.  Here  I  was  completely  without  any  support.  One's  reactions 
are  all  automatic.   I  got  up  to  the  ledge  by  just  sheer  clawing  at 
the  rock,  and  held  up  the  piton  that  had  come  out. 

And  I'll  never  forget  Glen's  face.   It  was  dusk.  He  just  turned 
white.   This  little  figure  down  there  with  this  white  face.   I  still 
remember  that . 

Well,  then  they  had  to  send  somebody  up  high  and  around  and  let 
a  rope  down  to  me — two  hundred  feet  or  so,  quite  a  bit.   And  then 
belay  it  with  a  fresh  piton  so  we  could  get  down.   That  was  a  close 


Teiser:      Glen  Dawson  the  bookseller? 

Adams:       Yes.   What  happened  was,  everybody  falling  on  the  rope  had  levered 
this  rock  a  little,  widening  this  crack  just  enough  so  that  when 
I  took  my  weight  off  the  rope  (the  crack  being  at  a  slant)  the 
piton  just  fell  out. 

Sierra  Club  Trips 

V.  Adams:    Wasn't  that  the  same  trip  where  somebody — a  girl — was  drowned, 
and  we  kept  trying  with  the  short-wave  radio,  which  was  a  new 
thing  to  carry  along,  to  get  to  the  rangers? 

Adams:       Yes.   She  fell  in  Benson  Lake.   Oh,  we  had  a  lot  of  accidents. 
I  remember  two  fatal  and  two  bad  falling  near-fatalities,  and 
plenty  of  heart  attacks,  intestinal  obstructions  and  double 
pneumonia,  etc. 

V.  Adams:    That  belongs  in  Sierra  Club  history. 

Adams:       We  always  had  a  doctor.   We  always  brought  an  intern  along  as  a 
camp  doctor,  but  then  we  had  some  very  fine  practitioners  who 
were  guests,  and  of  course  in  an  emergency  they'd  come  out  and 
help — Dr.  Walter  Alvarez  and  Dr.  Herbert  Evans,  for  example. 

I  remember  one  time,  a  man  was  climbing,  and  put  his  hand  up, 
and  somebody  was  up  ahead.   That's  very  bad  too,  to  climb  too  close 
ahead.   He  loosened  this  rock,  and  it  came  down  and  hit  him  right 
in  the  hand,  literally  went  through  his  hand — broke  everything. 
So  this  poor  guy — we  had  to  get  him  down  to  camp. 

The  intern  was  really  having  a  fit.   He  was  just  a  medical 
student,  he  wasn't  even  an  intern.   And  the  nurse  said,  "Well, 
just  get  hot  saline  water  and  keep  it  wrapped  in  it."  They  had 
to  tell  him  to  get  out  as  quick  as  he  could  and  apply  these 
compresses  constantly.   In  those  days,  you  know,  they  didn't  have 
penicillin  or  anything. 

V.  Adams:    The  packers  would  take  them  out. 

Adams:       They'd  strap  them  on  the  saddle  and  lead  them  out,  and  they'd 
have  to  go  many  miles. 

V.  Adams:    They'd  have  to  go  to  Lone  Pine  or  to  Sequoia  National  Park. 


Adams:      But  this  man  kept  the  use  of  his  hand.   They  had  to  practically 
rebuild  that  hand.   It  just  shows  you  what  can  happen.   Now,  if 
you  were  alone,  or  it  was  just  a  small  part,  you  can  imagine  what 
might  happen. 

Well ,  they  did  have  that  awful  thing  years  ago  in  the  Palisade 
basin,  where  a  woman  was  climbing  the  North  Palisade.   While  in  the 
talus,  one  of  those  huge  rocks  rolled  over  and  caught  her,  right 
on  the  pelvic  area  and  broke  both  pelvic  bones.   So  they  had  to 
improvise  a  stretcher  and  carried  her  with  great  difficulty  more 
than  three  miles  above  timber  line  to  the  trail.   It  was  the 
roughest  possible  terrain.   She  was  pretty  well  crippled  for  life. 
I  remember  Mr.  [William  E. ]  Colby  telling  me  that.   It  took  five 
days  in  all  to  get  her  to  the  Owens  Valley. 

Then  a  woman  had  a  heart  attack  when  we  were  near  Ralph 
Merritt's  camp.   The  woman  knew  she  had  a  heart  condition  and 
asked  the  packer  if  he  thought  she'd  get  along  all  right.   Well, 
how  did  he  know?   He  wasn't  any  doctor.   We  had  horses  anyway. 
I  forget  what  it  was — some  form  of  heart  failure.   She  got  up  to 
Sphinx  Pass  and  practically  passed  out  from  the  attack.   She  was 
six  weeks  in  Ralph  Merritt's  camp,  and  finally  the  doctors  came  in 
and  said,  "Well,  I  think  we  can  take  you  out  now."  And  it  was  a 
two  thousand  foot  climb  back  over  Sphinx  Pass.   When  she  got  there 
(with  less  oxygen)  she  expired  right  on  top  of  the  pass. 

V.  Adams:   You  know  what  I  remember  about  that  is  that  all  of  these  young 
husky  boys  who  were  part  of  a  rescue  group,  in  groups  of  four 
carrying  the  litter  down  the  slope,  and  they'd  change  take-over 
after  a  little  while,  carrying  her  down.   She'd  had  six  weeks  or 
four  weeks  or  however  long  it  was  down  at  that  camp  in  the  flat- 
lands,  but  those  boys  just  worked  like  mad  to  get  her  there  and 
also  to  get  her  out.   It  was  just  so  sad,  because  everybody  tried 
so  hard,  and  then  when  the  final  thing  happened,  it  wasn't  any 
good  after  all. 

Adams:      I  don't  want  to  give  the  impression  that  we  had  nothing  but 
disaster,  but — 

V.  Adams:   No.   We  had  lots  of  wonderful  things. 

Adams:      Always  things  may  happen  in  an  outing  of  one  hundred  or  two 
hundred  people. 

V.  Adams:   People  have  gone  on  long  trips  and  nothing  has  happened. 

Adams:      But  I  think  we — well,  we  had  that  case  of  old  Mr.  Padway,  who 
saved  up  for  several  years  for  this  big  vacation.   He  was  some 
kind  of  a  specialist  and  couldn't  get  away  from  work,  and  finally 


Adams:      he  did  and  this  was  a  four-weeks  vacation.   We  were  up  at  Milestone 
Camp,  which  is  over  eleven  thousand  feet,  and  he  had  this  very  bad 
cold;  it  was  freezing,  and  the  camp  doctor  didn't  like  the  way  he 
sounded.   I  think  Dr.  Alvarez  came  to  see  him,  and  they  got 
another  doctor  and  they  listened,  and  then  they  came  over  to  see 
us.   They  said,  "He's  got  pneumonia,  and  if  you  don't  get  him  out 
of  here,  he'll  be  dead  in  twelve  hours  because  of  this  altitude." 
(Low  oxygen.)   They  said,  "It's  very  important.   You'll  have  to 
get  him  out  some  way."  Of  course,  that  was  before  helicopters. 

So  [Clair  S.]  Tappaan  and  I  went  to  him  and  said,  "Well,  Mr. 
Padway,  we're  really  sorry,  but  the  doctors  have  ordered  you  out 
and  we'll  have  to  make  arrangements  right  now  to  bundle  you  up  and 
get  you  on  a  horse." 

"What!   I've  got  nothing  but  a  bad  cold.   I'll  be  over  this 
in  a  day  or  so."  (Cough,  cough) 

"Well,"  we  said,  "the  doctors  don't  say  that.   They  said  you 
have  pneumonia. " 

He  said,  "I  refuse  to  believe  it,  and  you'll  have  to  order  me 

We  said,  "Well,  we'll  have  to  send  you  out." 
He  said,  "If  you  do  that,  I'll  sue  you." 

Tap  was  a  lawyer,  so  I  said,  "Well?"  We  went  back  to  the 
doctors  and  told  them.   They  said,  "We'll  give  you  an  affidavit. 
If  you  don't  get  him  out  of  here,  in  eight  hours  he'll  be  dead." 

So  we  got  him  to  Fresno,  and  he  just  barely  made  it.   And  his 
letter  of  apology  was  touching,  because  he  felt  that  he  caused  all 
this  trouble.   They  did  save  his  life,  and  our  insistence  was 
important.   But  he  never  realized  it  at  the  time.   He  didn't  want 
to  realize  it.   It  would  spoil  his  trip. 

V.  Adams:   There  was  one  treck — I  wasn't  on  this  trip — when  you  went  across 

country  and  it  was  very  high  and  very  cold,  and  a  couple  of  people 
nearly  didn't  make  it.   The  altitude  and  the  whole  thing  got  them. 
But  outside  of  that,  when  you  think  one  hundred  people  go  every 
summer  on  these  trips  for  forty  years  and  most  of  them  do 

Adams:      Well,  it's  not  a  compensation,  you  see.   Your  oxygen  supply  goes 
down.   In  Yosemite  you  have  three-quarters  normal,  I  think,  and 
you  get  up  to  Glacier  Point — eight  thousand  or  nine  thousand, 
somewhere  in  there — you  only  have  about  half.   No,  it's  more 
nearly  ten  thousand  that  you  have  half.   And  it  diminishes  as 
altitude  increases. 


Adams:      Well,  I  can  compensate  very  quickly,  because  I'm  always  going  from 
high  to  low  altitudes.   But  for  some  people  it  takes  several  days. 
And  this  mountain  sickness  is  just  sort  of  a  breakdown  of  body 
functions,  because  there  just  isn't  really  enough  oxygen  for  them. 
Everything  is  knocked  out  of  sync.   The  heart  has  an  automatic 
trigger  device,  and  if  it  works  too  hard,  it  automatically  just 
slows  up,  or  may  temporarily  fail.   It  doesn't  mean  there's 
definite  damage.   But  you  can  have  some  awful  symptoms.   People 
have  passed  out  absolutely  cold  and  go  into  what  appears  to  be  a 
deep  faint.   And  only  a  doctor  can  tell  whether  it's  a  state  of 
shock  or  not. 

Teiser:     What  was  your  position  on  those  trips? 

Adams:      I  was  after  1930  the  assistant  manager.   I  went  first  in  1923  for 
a  week,  and  then  didn't  go  again  until  1927.   And  1927  I  was  the 
photographer,  and  I  was  taken  along  to  make  pictures.   That  was  in 
the  Sequoia  National  Park  area,  the  High  Sierra  back  country.   In 
1928  we  went  to  Canada.   I  was  the  photographer  and  helped,  and 
Mr.  Colby  was  the  leader.   In  1929  I  didn't  go  anywhere.   They 
went  to  Yellowstone,  I  think.   In  1930  I  was  back  assisting  Clair 
Tappaan  as  manager.   I  was  in  charge  of  personnel,  mountain 
climbing,  and  lost  and  found,  and  morals  committee.  [Laughter] 

So,  that  was  my  job,  and  it  really  was  something,  because  I'd 
be  up  very  early  in  the  morning,  and  I'd  try  to  make  some 
photographs,  and  I'd  have  to  see  that  people  got  off  and  their 
bags  were  ready  to  pack.   Then  I  would  have  to  go  ahead,  at  a 
rather  fast  rate,  to  pick  out  the  campsites  and  the  commissary 
location  and  the  latrines.   And  I'd  always  divide  up  the  camps — 
men,  women,  married  couples — try  to  figure  it  out  logically.   I'd 
get  that  done.   Then  I'd  go  off  and  try  to  make  some  photographs. 
Of  course,  I  did  many  on  the  trail,  too.   Then  in  the  evening  I 
had  to  conduct  the  campfire  and  run  the  lost  and  found.   And  of 
course  the  lost  and  found  could  be  serious,  because  somebody  would 
leave  something  like  his  watch  or  a  pill — you  know,  you  don't  have 
much  of  un-importance  when  you're  out  in  the  wilderness.   We'd 
have  a  bag,  and  some  of  the  things  we'd  find  in  it  were  surprising! 
Glasses,  prescription  bottle,  a  toothbrush,  etc.,  etc. 

I  can  report  now  that  the  worst  hike  I  ever  had  was  when  we 
left  Woods  Creek  and  went  to  Rae  Lake.   We  were  going  to  camp  at 
Rae  Lake  and  go  over  Glen  Pass  to  Center  Basin  the  next  day.   I 
had  a  very  nice  Dagor  lens.   It  was  what  we  call  a  convertible — 
symmetrical  lens.   In  other  words,  you  could  unscrew  the  front 
element  or  the  back  element  and  get  one  and  a  half  or  twice  the 
size  of  the  full-lens  image.   It  was  really  three  lenses  in  one. 
I'd  taken  a  picture  in  Woods  Creek  Camp,  leaving  camp  in  the 
morning  in  the  usual  hurry.   When  I  got  to  Rae  Lake,  I  realized 


Adams:      I'd  left  the  back  of  the  lens  on  a  rock  at  Woods  Creek,  and  I 

could  see  in  my  mind's  eye  just  where  that  lens  was.   Of  course 
animals  could  have  nudged  it  off  or  got  it — but  my  whole 
photography  depended  on  this  lens  (it  was  the  only  one  I  had  on 
the  trip).   So  after  dinner  I  said  I  had  to  go  back  the  twelve 
miles.   So  I  hiked  down  there  as  fast  as  I  could,  with  a  flash 
light,  and  by  gosh,  there  was  the  rock  and  there  was  the  lens. 
And  I  ate  some  hardtack  and  a  piece  of  chocolate,  and  I  came  back 
the  twelve  miles  to  Rae  Lake.   That  made  it  thirty-six  miles  for 
that  day. 

But  I  got  back  in  the  morning  after  the  camp  was  broken  up — 
gone.   So  I  had  this  climb  of  nearly  twelve  thousand  feet  over 
Glen  Pass  to  Center  Basin,  which  was  about  fourteen  miles  down. 
So  I  had  walked  a  total  of  about  fifty  miles! 

And  all  I  can  say  is  I'm  glad  they  didn't  move  camp  the  next 
day.   But  those  were  the  days  when  I  could  do  such  things.   I 
could  have  done  another  ten  miles.   I  was  just  terribly  tired  and 
footsore.   But  I  used  to  time  myself  walking.   Even  with  a  pack, 
on  the  level  I  could  go  almost  five  miles  an  hour.   Usually  on  a 
long  trip,  I  used  to  keep  to  about  four.   Mr.  Colby  had  a  wonderful 
system  of  starting  in  the  morning  at  a  very  slow  pace,  and  the 
people  with  him  would  get  exasperated  because  old  Will  would  plod 
along.   Then  he'd  get  plodding  a  little  faster,  you  see.  And  he'd 
never  stop;  he'd  just  go  all  day  long.   And  all  the  guys  would  be 
dashing  ahead — the  young  squirts,  you  know,  racing  for  the  next 
camp.   And  we'd  pass  them  lying  down  on  the  ground,  gasping.   And 
Colby,  at  sixty-something,  was  still  plodding  along,  with  a  nice, 
good-sized  pack.  [Laughter]   It's  a  matter  of  just  accommodating 
and  working  into  a  pattern. 

Yosemite,  Continued 

Adams:      Well,  I  think  now  we've  skipped  away  from  Yosemite.   Now,  the 
early  days  in  Yosemite  are  associated  for  me  with  the  LeConte 
Memorial.   They  had  just  moved  it  from  the  Camp  Curry  area.   It 
used  to  be  called  the  Lodge.   Lodge  was  the  wrong  description. 
I  mean  nobody  ever  slept  in  it.   Well,  they  did,  but  it  wasn't 
supposed  to  be  for  that  purpose.   It  was  first  in  the  Camp  Curry 
area,  and  when  they  expanded  Curry  they  found  that  this  building 
would  be  right  in  the  middle  of  it.   So  they  offered  to  rebuild 
the  Memorial  for  the  Sierra  Club  in  a  near  location  to  the  west. 

Mr.  Colby  and  a  few  others  came  up  and  picked  the  site,  where 
it  is  now,  where  you  got  a  beautiful  view  up  to  Tenaya  Canyon.   The 
trees  in  front  were  ten  to  fifteen  feet  high.   They  were  young 


Adams : 





cedars  and  pines.  You'd  look  over  this  very  small  growth  and 
see  the  whole  vista  of  Washington  Column,  Tenaya  Canyon  and  Half 
Dome.   It  was  a  grand  view. 

Now  the  trees  are  nearly  a  hundred  feet  high,  and  you  can't 
see  anything  at  all.   It  just  shows  how  things  grow  and  change 
in  time.   They  always  had  a  "custodian."  There  were  a  few  dried 
plants  and  a  few  books  and  information  available. 

How  old  were  you  when  you  became  custodian? 

I'm  always  two  years  behind  the  century.   That  would  be  1919  when 
I  was  at  the  Lodge  alone.   I'd  take  people  out  on  trips. 

That  was  a  lot  of  responsibility  for  a  young  man. 

Yes,  that's  true.   Then,  after  that,  Aunt  Beth  and  Uncle  Frank 
joined  me.   I  climbed  around  a  lot. 

Did  you  always  carry  cameras  with  you? 

Oh,  almost  all  of  my  trips.  Usually  a  6  1/2  by  8  1/2  or  a  four 
by  five — fairly  simple.   But  my  pack  would  be  about  fifty  pounds. 
I  also  carried  my  tripod,  and  a  good  tripod  weighs  about  ten 
pounds.   And  then  there  were  the  lenses  and  the  film  holders  and 
the  accessories,  and  lunch.  A  notebook  and  maybe  a  brass  cylinder 
for  a  mountain-top  register,  the  Sierra  Club  register. 

I  remember  bringing  down  the  early  records  of  Clarence  King 
from  Mount  Clark  after  putting  up  a  new  register.   And  somebody 
stole  that  record  that  was  priceless;  the  first  notes  of  King. 
I  had  them  at  the  LeConte  Lodge  in  an  envelope,  clearly  indicating 
that  they  were  important  records,  and  I  was  going  to  send  them  to 
San  Francisco.   And  one  day  I  found  they  were  gone! 

[End  Tape  9,  Side  2] 
[Begin  Tape  10,  Side  1] 

Well,  to  go  back  to  the  Clarence  King  episode.  Mount  Clark  used 
to  be  called  Gothic  Peak,  which  is  a  better  name  for  it.   It's 
a  triple  glacial  cirque.   It's  unique,  and  a  very  handsome  mountain. 
Clarence  King's  description  of  his  ascent  of  Mount  Clark  is  very 
harrowing.   Nobody 'd  been  able  to  find  the  place  he  made  his 
famous  "jump."  I  went  all  over  the  summit  area,  hanging  down  on 
ropes  and  trying  to  find  the  place.  We  say  now  there  was 
probably  a  rock  slide  that's  obliterated  it.  But  everybody  in 
those  days  could  really  exaggerate  their  experiences.  The 
painters  did  and  the  writers  did  and  the  explorers  did;  it  was 
always  a  great  wild  wilderness — hard  to  check  up  on! 


Adams:       The  place  that  he  described,  in  considerable  detail,  where  he 
makes  his  "leap  over  the  abyss" — it  might  have  been  big  enough 
to  kill  him  if  he  fell.  I  mean,  you  don't  have  to  fall  very  far 
on  granite.  Well  anyway,  up  at  the  top  he  had  left  this  lead 
container — in  pretty  bad  shape — and  in  that  were  his  original 
geologic  survey  records  with  the  altitude  readings,  his  signature, 
and  date,  time  of  day — all  such  stuff.   And  then  some  other 
climbers  left  some  notes  after  that.   I  replaced  those  with  the 
new  Sierra  Club  register,  which  was  a  brass  tube  with  a  sealed 
wing  lock  cap  on  it.   In  the  scroll  was  the  name  of  who  placed  it 
there,  the  date,  the  time,  notes  of  any  predecessors,  etc.,  and 
then  people  sign  it  to  record  their  climbs.   I  guess  that's  still 
up  there,  although  I  suppose  vandals  might  have  taken  it! 

The  register  really  has  value  only  on  a  very  remote, 
difficult  mountain.   I  imagine  Mount  Clark  has  been  climbed 
hundreds  of  times.  But  at  that  time,  in  the  1920s,  relatively 
few  people  had  made  the  ascent. 

The  idea  of  true  wilderness  today  is  inconceivable.  When 
you  were  out  there  in  the  earlier  days,  you  were  completely  out 
of  touch.  Now  you  have  search  planes,  radios,  and  helicopters. 

Teiser:      Those  records  were  never  returned? 

Adams:       No.   Somebody  who  knew  something  about  them  took  them,  I'm  sure. 

I  recognized  how  valuable  they  were;  valuable  in  a  mountaineering- 
historical  sense. 

Then  Hall  McAllister  gave  the  cableway  on  Half  Dome.   The 
cableway  was  two  posts  set  in  the  rock  about  every  fifteen  feet 
with  steel  cables  threaded  through  them.   You  just  walked  up 
between  the  cables.   I  attached  the  Crosby  clamps  to  the  first 

Photography  Workshops  and  Aspiring  Amateurs 

Teiser:      We  wanted  to  ask  you  to  discuss  your  workshops. 

Adams:  One  of  the  most  important  things  about  a  workshop,  apart  from  its 
location,  is  the  fact  that  in  my  philosophy  it  is  directed  to  the 
individual  photographer  maintaining  his  individuality.  Trying  to 
find  out  what  he  has  to  say  about  what  he  sees,  so  that  he  is  not 
dominated  by  any  school  or  any  instructor  or  any  philosophy. 

I  think  I  described  to  you  that  in  studying  music,  all  my 
really  effective  teachers  never  played  a  note  for  me.   And  there 
was  only  this  one  teacher  in  Berkeley  who  taught  with  two  pianos, 




Adams : 


Adams : 

and  by  illustrating  phrases  and  saying,  "No,  it's  this  way,"  and 
me  echoing  her.   In  a  few  weeks  my  father  recognized  the  difference, 
He  said,  "It  doesn't  sound  like  you."  Now,  that  was  a  great 
revelation.   You  suddenly  realize  that  you  must  build  something  of 
yourself.   Then  you  can  resist  somebody  coming  along  and  saying, 
"Now,  this  is  the  way  you  do  it."  Technically  it  may  be  another 
thing;  you  may  have  to  say:   this  is  the  way  you  expose  and 
develop  to  get  a  certain  result.  But  the  result  is  yours . 

When  it  comes  to  saying,  "You  have  to  make  a  photograph  with 
this  feeling,"  or  we  have  to  phrase  something  in  music  with  a 
particular  style,  that  can  be  quite  disastrous  unless  a  person  is 
a  strong  individualist.   And  part  of  the  success  of  the  whole 
"group"  piano  teachers,  music  teachers,  was  really  developing 
people  on  an  imitative  basis.   I  suppose  they  were  honest  about 
it,  with  the  hope  that  they'd  develop  the  individuality  later. 
But  there's  something  about  the  individual's  development  of  style 
and  phrasing  and  touch  that's  so  precious.   You  just  can't 
dominate  it,  you  see.   So  I  was  extremely  fortunate  in  the 
opportunity  to  be  myself. 

And  that's  why  I  want  to  impart  that  same  concept  in 
photography.   I  want  to  give  students  a  basic  technique  which  will 
liberate  them  to  the  utmost  degree  to  get  what  they  "see,"  and  get 
what  they  want .  What  they  see  and  what  they  want  to  photograph 
and  what  they  want  the  photograph  to  look  like — that's  their 
business.   But  knowing  something  of  the  scientific,  practical, 
technically  oriented  approach  will  enhance  their  capacity  to 
understand  and  express  themselves. 

It  must  be  difficult,  when  a  group  of  students  comes  in,  like  the 
other  Sunday,  and  you  really  didn't  know  them. 

Well,  they  were  pretty  bad.  That  was  a  very  weak  group. 

But  you  didn't  even  know  if  the  one  who  had  what  he  presented  as 
beautiful  sunsets  really  liked  to  photograph  those.  His 
objectives  had  not  narrowed  down;  you  couldn't  even  perceive  what 
he  was  trying  to  do. 

You  can't  do  that.  You  either  have  to  say,  "I'm  a  psychiatrist, 
and  you'll  come  to  my  couch  for  so  many  dollars  an  hour  over  a 
period  of  six  months,"  or  you  admit,  frankly,  just  an  intuitive 
reaction.  And  I  usually  tell  them  that. 

I  had  a  man  here  the  other  day  who  was  an  engineer  and  wanted 
to  get  into  photography.   And,  oh  boy,  he'd  really  worked  out  a 
lot  of  good  mechanics.   But  he  absolutely  didn't  have  any  "eye." 
All  I  could  do  was  to  say,  "Look,  you're  seeing  all  this  stuff. 


Adams : 



It's  like  carrying  rocks  in  a  knapsack.  You  don't  have  to." 
There  was  all  this  dead  space.   Then  you  bring  the  "L"  cards  in 
and  you  show  him  how,  when  you  bring  a  piece  of  grass  in  the 
image  up  to  the  edge,  the  grass  suddenly  becomes  significant  in 
relation  to  the  whole  thing.   He  says,  "I  never  saw  that.   I 
never  thought  of  that."  I  say,  "You  have  to  look  for  it.   I  mean, 
that's  part  of  seeing  and  feeling."  It's  a  very  subtle  and  very 
complicated  thing! 

Do  you  sometimes  discourage  people  who  you  think  really  would  be 

Oh  yes.   I  don't  try  to  tell  them  they're  no  good  and  bums  and 
everything.   Well,  I  just  say  to  them,  "You  have  a  long  ways  to 
go.   And  you  haven't  got  your  techniques,  and  you're  really  not 
expressing  anything.   And  you  just  better  either  get  off  the  dime 
and  do  something — "  Sometimes  it's  that.  But  most  of  the  time 
it's  some  very  gifted  person  who  thinks  he  wants  to  go  into 
photography,  and  then  you  try  to  pick  out  for  him  all  of  the 
pitfalls  of  the  so-called  professional  world. 

You  may  work  five  days  a  week  in  a  professional  studio  and 
get  fed  up  with  the  most  commonplace,  dull  assignments.   At  the 
end  of  that  week,  believe  me,  you'd  rather  go  bowling  than  work 
further  with  the  camera.  You'd  be  tired.  Whereas,  if  you're  a 
lawyer  or  an  engineer  or  a  bootblack  or  anything,  you  build  up 
this  creative  tension.  Many  of  the  great  photographers  in  the 
world  have  been  amateurs. 

I  try  to  point  out  how  difficult  it  is  to  break  into 
photography.   "Well,"  they  say,  "but  you  sell  prints." 

"Yes,"  I  say,  "I've  been  doing  it  for  forty  years." 

There.'s  a  little  difference.   I  mean,  I  sell  a  great  many 
prints.  But  twenty-five  years  ago  I  didn't  sell  a  great  many 
prints.   I  was  scratching  pretty  hard.   I  say,  "You  just  can't 
go  out  and  sell  prints.  You  could  get  an  agent.  You  could  get 
a  publicity  man.  You  might  suddenly  emerge  as  a  shooting  star 
and  it  would  be  wonderful,  but  the  chances  are  against  that." 
But  the  people  that  you  see  that  you  instinctively  know  have 
absolutely  no  taste,  no  knowledge,  no  perception,  sensitivity — 
they  might  be  fine  people  and  really  good  in  many  other  ways,  but 
not  in  photography. 

Just  like  music.  You've  heard  people  play  the  piano  and 
you  wish  to  gosh  they'd  go  and  start  fishing  or  something.  Yet 
they  may  be  playing  accurately,  but  their  whole  tone  construction, 
their  whole  pattern  of  phrasing  and  shaping,  is  all  off,  and  it's 
an  agonizing  thing  to  hear.   [Interruption] 


Joseph  N.  LeConte  in  the  Sierra 

Adams : 


Adams : 

Up  in  Yosemite  in  the  earlier  days,  I  was  not  conscious  of  being 
a  photographer  at  all.   I  was  just  making  photographs.   But  the 
difference  between  someone  like  LeConte  and  myself  was  that  I  was 
expressing  my  feelings.  And  while  he  had  very  intense  feelings 
about  the  mountains — he  really  loved  them — he  was  content  to 
express  the  factual,  scientific,  topographic  features.   I  mean, 
as  a  scientist.  These  things  are  fully  documented  in  his 

But  photography,  being  a  language,  admits  poetry.  Th 
no  good  grounds  of  comparison  there;  both  are  separate  and 
important . 


There  were  two  or  three  years  when  you  went  on  trips  with  the 
LeConte  family;  was  he  an  accomplished  mountaineer? 

Oh  yes,  in  relation  to  the  period.  He  was  a  climber,  but  he 
never  took  chances.  He  wasn't  a  rock  climber.  They  didn't 
exist  then. 

We  made  many  ascents.   We  climbed  the  Agassiz  Needle,  we 
climbed  the  Goat  Mountain — lots  of  peaks  that  are  commonplace 
climbing  now,  but  we  did  them  with  excitement  then.   He  was  the 
one  that  explored  the  Kings  River  Sierra.   It  seemed  that  quite 
a  number  of  years  ago,  the  State  employed  a  topographer — I  forget 
what  you'd  call  them — a  cartographer — a  surveyor,  I  guess,  to 
prepare  a  map  of  the  southern  Sierra  Nevada.   It  was  about  1880, 
I  think.   And  this  man  got  to  the  top  of  the  Granite  Divide  and 
took  one  look  north  into  the  middle  fork  of  the  Kings  and  beyond, 
and  just  started  sketching  in.   And  the  maps  were  quite  wrong. 
The  sheepherders  and  the  cattlemen  knew  this  didn't  jibe  with 
anything  they  had  experienced . 

So,  LeConte  and  his  friends  who  loved  mountains  went  up  and 
down  what  is  now  the  John  Muir  Trail  I  don't  know  how  many  times. 
And  they  had  to  haul  animals  over  cliffs  with  block  and  tackle. 
People  like  the  Duncan  McDuffies,  the  Charlie  Nobles  (the 
mathematics  professor) — really  a  very  elite  group  of  people. 
Theodore  Solomons  was  sort  of  a  "parallel"  figure,  but  not  one 
of  the  group. 

So  LeConte  decided  he  was  really  going  to  map  this  region 
properly.   And  of  course,  being  a  scientist-surveyor,  he  had  all 
the  techniques.   So  he  produced  the  first  functioning  maps,  which 
were  not  really  accurate,  as  he  said — they  might  be  off  a  half  a 
mile.   But  at  least  we  know  the  North  Fork  of  the  Kings  exists, 


Adams:       and  we  know  that  the  Middle  Fork  of  the  Kings  goes  all  the  way 
up  LeConte  Canyon  to  Mount  Goddard,  and  Goddard  Creek  doesn't 
flow  north  and  so  on.  All  kinds  of  terrible  mistakes  were  made 
on  those  earlier  maps. 

So  he  drew  up  the  whole  complex  of  the  Kings-Kern  region, 
triangulated  it,  and  did  what  remains  an  extremely  creditable  job, 
although  with  no  presumption  of  being  really  accurate,  because  he 
didn't  have  the  equipment.   But  he  was  within,  I  would  say,  half 
a  mile;  that's  what  people  who  know  told  me.  His  maps  were  very 
rewarding  and  useful. 

I  don't  think  his  wife,  Helen  Gompertz,  went  on  too  many  of 
those  big  trips.   I  think  they  were  married  after  most  of  them. 
But  they  went  to  Yosemite.   And  of  course  the  senior  LeConte 
[Joseph  LeConte]  was  with  them  in  1901,  and  he  died  there.   The 
LeConte  Memorial  is  dedicated  to  him. 

And  then  later  on,  in  the  late  twenties  and  early  thirties, 
Mrs.  [Joseph  N.]  LeConte  wasn't  very  well,  and  they  would  go  to 
Porcupine  Flat.   It  was  a  place  near  the  Tioga  Road,  a  very 
delightful  campsite,  and  she'd  rest.  I  remember  in  1923  they 
were  at  Porcupine  Flat,  because  that's  the  time  of  the  big 
Berkeley  fire.  And  I  received  word  of  this  fire  and  went  to 
Porcupine  Flat  to  let  the  LeContes  know  that  the  house  had  been 
saved  but  the  roof  was  slightly  damaged. 

I  left  the  Memorial  in  Yosemite.   In  those  days,  for  hikers 
everything  was  "shortcuts."  I  remember  climbing  right  out  of 
Indian  Canyon  and  making  a  bee-line  to  Porcupine  Flat.   I  was 
wearing  a  straw  hat,  and  I  had  gone  through  brush  and  forest — 
not  paying  any  attention  to  the  trail.  This  was  almost  a  straight 
line.  And  when  I  arrived  at  the  camp  I  had  a  baby  robin  in  the 
top  of  my  straw  hat  I   I  think  a  few  of  the  people  thought  I  was 
nuts  and  that  I  had  done  this  on  purpose,  but  I  was  the  most 
surprised  person  of  all.  [Laughter]  Mrs.  LeConte  nourished  this 
bird  for  two  or  three  weeks,  and  finally  it  flew  off.*  I'd  gone 
through  a  tree,  you  see,  and  knocked  the  bird  out  of  its  nest. 

I  told  them  about  the  fire,  and  that  it  was  nothing  to 
worry  about,  but  they  should  know  about  it.   But  it  was  something 
to  worry  about.   So  they  debated  whether  they  should  go  home,  and 
I  said,  "Well,  I  didn't  think  so.  The  information  was  that  the 
house  was  all  right.   The  roof  had  been  burned  a  little  and  singed- 
no  damage." 

*For  another  version  of  this  story,  see  Helen  M.  LeConte, 
Reminiscences ,  op.  cit . ,  p.  69. 


Adams:       They  gave  me  a  message  to  telephone  to  somebody  to  go  and  look 
at  it.  This  was  the  house  on  Hillside  Court  in  Berkeley.   So  I 
stayed  with  them  a  day  or  so.   They  used  to  climb  Mount  Hoffman, 
climb  out  on  the  top  of  Mount  Watkins  and  look  down  on  Yosemite. 
It  was  a  kind  of  an  intimate  life.  They'd  always  give  me  a 
little  libation  before  dinner.  Really,  they  were  delightfully 
drinking  people.  Never  too  much. 

Teiser:      This  was  during  Prohibition — 

Adams:       Oh  yes — 

Teiser:      Did  they  make  their  own  wine? 

Adams:       Oh  no,  they  just  had  bottles  of  booze,  like  everybody  else  did. 

(The  whole  thing  was  a  farce.)  It  was  usually  bourbon.  And  we'd 
all  get  together  before  the  campfire  in  the  evening,  before 
dinner,  and  they'd  give  these  toasts — these  little  Scotch  or 
Southern  toasts.   You  know,  like,  "Here's  tae  [sic]  us.   Wha's 
like  us?  Dahmn  few.   Thank  God."   (I  can't  pronounce  it.)  These 
toasts  would  go  back  and  forth.  [Laughter]  And  the  other  one  is, 
"I  lifts  my  glass.   I  has  your  eye.   I  winks  accordin'.   I  likewise 
bows."  [Laughter] 

And  they'd  always  have  this  ceremony.  And  they'd  have  guests 
all  the  time,  and  they'd  have  these  wonderful  campfire  dinners  to 
gether.  It  was  a  really  great  experience! 

And  Joe  always  had  the  camera  and  was  always  making  records . 
And  of  course  he  just  exposed  and  developed  empirically.  You  do 
the  best  you  can  under  the  circumstances.   I  later  made  albums 
of  prints  for  the  Sierra  Club  of  his  Hetch-Hetchy  pictures,  and 
while  they  don't  say  much  emotionally,  they  are  simply  an 
amazing  survey  of  this  country  in  the  1890s  and  early  1900s. 
And  now  that  there's  seventy  years  in  perspective,  this  documenta 
tion  becomes  terribly  important,  you  see.   The  forest  people  can 
look  at  them  and  see  the  disposition  of  trees  and  meadows  in 
early  days. 

You  see,  very  few  people  realize  that  Yosemite  meadows  are 
not  natural  grass;  they  imported  grass  for  cattle  feed.   Because 
when  people  like  the  [John]  Degnans  were  there  in  the  seventies 
or  eighties,  I  think — Virginia  can  check  the  date — they  raised 
cattle  for  their  milk.  And  they  imported  this  very  special  grass. 
It  was  ordinary  feed  grass,  but  the  grass  you  see  in  the  meadows 
now  has  nothing  to  do  with  what  was  there  first.   The  Kings 
Canyon  has  bunch  grass,  which  is  a  quite  different  thing  and  very 
nourishing  for  donkeys,  but  it's  not  good  for  cows. 


Adams:    Well,  to  get  back  to  Yosemite — the  awful  condition  of  the 

concessions  that  were  there — there  were  always  conflicts.   The  Camp 
Curry  people  and  the  Desmond  Park  [Service]  Company  and  somebody 
else's  hotel  and  [A.C.]  Pillsbury's  studio  and  [David  J.]  Foley's 
studio  and  [Julius]  Boysen's  studio  and  Best's  studio.   Everybody 
just  scratching  for  a  living,  you  know.   [Interruption] 

Some  of  the  early  Yosemite  people  were  remarkable.   [Gabriel] 
Sovulewski;  you  met  Grace  Ewing  [Mrs.  Frank  B.  Ewing],  his  daughter. 
He  was  a  man  who  was  very  prominent  in  the  building  of  the  trails. 
He  did  very  fine  trail  engineering,  because  some  of  the  routing  and 
structure  of  those  trails  today  are  perfect.   Some  have  just  been 

The  Half  Dome  Cable 

Adams:    McAllister  gave  the  cable  up  Half  Dome,  and  asked  me  if  I  would  put 

on  the  Crosby  clamps.   Now,  a  Crosby  clamp  is  a  U-shaped  device  which 
secures  the  cable  from  slipping  through  the  post  rings.  Well,  they 
weigh  about  five  pounds  apiece. 

So  the  government  brought  in  at  least  two  mule-loads  of  Crosby 
clamps  and  dumped  them  at  the  spring  at  the  base  of  Half  Dome, 
about  a  half  a  mile  away,  and  left  me  a  couple  of  monkey  wrenches 
and  a  safety  belt  and  said,  "Good  luck  to  you."  [Laughter] 

Well,  you  know,  I  had  no  idea  of  the  weight.  Here  I  have  this 
pile  of  metal,  and  I  have  to  think,  "Do  I  start  the  clamps  at  the 
top  or  bottom?"  Well,  I  started  them  at  the  top,  logically,  because 
we  have  to  "break  in"  on  a  job  like  this.  So  I  took  about  ten 
clamps — fifty  or  sixty  pounds  in  my  knapsack — and  went  up  these 
cables,  which  weren't  really  rightly  set.   I  first  had  to  climb  up 
to  what  they  call  the  "neck"  of  the  "Elephant,"  several  hundred  feet 
of  trail  to  the  base  of  the  Dome.   Then  I  had  to  go  up  the  seven 
hundred  feet  to  the  top  and  attach  the  clamps  as  I  came  down.  Let's 
see,  there 'd  be  one,  two,  three,  four,  five,  six,  seven,  eight,  nine, 
ten — there 'd  be  five  pairs  of  posts,  and  I  could  do  them  in  one  trip. 
And  I  had  to  work  at  45°,  but  I  had  a  belt.  They  were  very  thoughtful 
for  that,  but  the  hook  was  wrong.   If  I  had  fallen,  it  might  have 
pulled  off.   But  I  was  supposed  to  clamp  that  into  the  post  while  I 
set  these  clamps  on  and  put  the  bolts  together. 

Let's  see.   That  took  me  six  days  of  dawn-to-dusk  work.   And 
finally  I  got  all  the  clamps  on.   I  did  this  in  the  last  part  of 
April  and  early  May.   So  it  served  its  purpose  all  summer.   But 
they  had  to  be  taken  down  every  winter.   They  left  the  cables  on 
the  Dome.   If  the  posts  were  strong  enough  and  were  shaped  a  different 
way,  I  think  they  could  have  left  them  up  without  damage  from  snow. 
But  I'm  not  an  engineer,  so  I  don't  know. 


Adams:    Hence  I  have  been  up  Half  Dome  probably  more  than  anybody  I  can 
think  of.  [Laughter] 

In  the  first  days,  [George  C.]  Anderson  climbed  Half  Dome 
drilling  holes  in  the  rock  and  inserting  little  expansion  bolts. 
And  the  rope  laid  right  on  the  surface  of  the  Dome.   It  was  quite  a 
hazardous  climb  because  the  Dome  was  an  exfoliated  mass.   Contrary 
to  Muir,  the  glaciers  never  came  to  within  seven  hundred  feet  of  the 
top  of  it.   But  these  great  plates  of  granite  overlap  on  the  down 
ward  side,  so  you  come  across  about  a  two-foot  height  of  granite 
ledge.  Well,  when  you're  climbing  at  45°  a  two-foot  step  or  a  thirty- 
inch  step  is  really  a  pretty  hazardous  obstruction,  especially  when 
you're  going  down.   So  today  we  can  climb  the  Dome  safely,  but  a  lot 
of  climbers  ascend  the  Dome  outside  the  cable  but  only  with  ropes 
and  the  most  careful  "friction"  climbing. 

But  now  they  have  cables  with  smaller  clamps  and  a  little 
different  system.   They  still  take  them  down.   But  it  wasn't  the 
cumbersome  thing  I  had  to  work  with. 

But  that  was  an  interesting  experience.   There  was  a  sleet 
storm  once,  when  everything  was  covered  with  ice.   I  didn't  have  any 
gloves  and,  oh  gosh,  it  was  terrible.  [Laughs]   Especially  me,  as  a 
pianist,  getting  my  fingers  frozen. 

So,  that  was  a  very  nice  experience. 

When  the  LeContes  were  in  Yosemite,  we  explored  the  Quarter 
Domes  which  are  in  between  Half  Dome  and  Clouds  Rest — actually 
between  Half  Dome  and  the  Pinnacles.   And  on  one  of  the  Quarter 
Domes  is  an  enormous  erratic  boulder,  one  of  the  best  examples  I 
know  of.   I  have  a  picture  somewhere  of  Joe  LeConte  standing  by  this 
boulder.   LeConte  was  a  tiny  man  (he  was  about  five  feet  one)  and 
this  boulder  looks  gigantic.  We  agreed  that  he  should  always  be 
around  to  be  photographed  in  scenes  of  nature,  because  he  made 
nature  look  so  much  bigger.  [Laughter] 

Then  I  met  Virginia.   I  used  to  go  down  to  Best's  studio,  and 
Harry  Best  had  an  old  Chickering  square.   And  I  used  to  practice. 
And  of  course  the  inevitable  happened,  but  it  was  a  very  long 
engagement.   She  had  tremendous  patience. 

I  would  walk  down  from  LeConte  Memorial;  it  was  about  a  mile. 
Didn't  think  anything  at  all  of  the  fact  that  we  had  no  car.   I  did 
have  a  car,  a  little  old  Ford  laundry  wagon.   But  I  didn't  have  any 
lights,  so  at  night  I  had  to  walk  down  to  the  studio  and  practice 
two  or  three  hours . 

Teiser:   You  were  practicing  and  taking  care  of  the  lodge  and  photographing 
all  the  time? 


Adams:    Oh  yes.  You  see,  I  also  was  studying  harmony  and  musicology  that  I 
had  to  work  on.   So  I  was  pretty  busy. 

Teiser:   You  certainly  were. 

Adams:    On  a  nonacademic  basis,  but  still... 

Logic  and  Faith 

Teiser:   I'm  amazed  that  you  were  such  a  responsible  young  man.  You 
apparently  did  everything  you  said  you  were  going  to  do. 

Adams:    Yes,  I  did — tried,  at  least.   I  guess  I  was  pretty  good.  My  father 
was  a  pretty  good  logician.   I  mean,  he  would  say:   if  you  have  to 
do  it,  you  do  it,  and  do  it  the  best  you  can.   That's  all  there  is 
to  it.   But  I  also  was  required  to  do  a  lot  of  literary  work.  And 
a  lot  of  writing. 

Teiser:   I  wonder  if  your  first  published  piece  isn't  a  report  in  the  Sierra 
Club  Bulletin  of  1921,  as  custodian  of  the  LeConte  Lodge.   It  was 
a  report  for  1920. 

Adams:    Yes,  it  probably  is. 

Teiser:   About  needed  repairs.  A  short  report. 

Adams:    Yes.   I  have  completely  forgotten  it,  but  that  probably  would  be  it. 
I  think  I  told  you  the  experience  when  I  was  studying  Greek  with 
old  Dr.  Harriot  in  San  Francisco.   Did  I  tell  you  that?  Was  that  on 
the  tape? 

Teiser:   Yes. 

Adams:    Yes.   Dr.  Harriot  was  a  fundamentalist.   He  was  a  Canadian.   He  was 
apparently  a  very  fine  Greek  scholar — there  was  no  question  about 
that.  He  really  was  an  awfully  good  teacher,  I  must  say  that  for 
him.   I  read  quite  a  little  of  the  classic  Greek  and  got  a  lot  out 
of  it. 

But  he  asked  me  one  time,  he  asked,  "What  are  you  doing?  What 
are  you  reading?  Do  you  go  to  church?"   I  said,  "No." 

"Oh,  my  God.   You  don't  go  to  church!"   I  don't  think  he  said 
"my  God,"  but  he  indicated  it  was  terrible. 

He  asked,  "What's  your  religion?"  I  said,  "I  guess  it's 
Episcopalian.   I  don't  know." 


Adams : 


Well,  that  goggle-eyed  him.   And  then  he  asked,  "What  are  you 
reading?"  I  said,  "Poets.   Of  course  I  like  the  Romantic  poets," 
and  included  Shelley. 

"Oh,  Shelley!   Evil!"  He  blew  his  top.   Dr.  Harriot  said, 
"I  suppose,  young  man,  that  you  are  one  of  those  believers  in 

I  said,  "Yes,  it  makes  a  lot  of  sense." 

He  said,  "Well,  evolution  is  a  very  false  thing,  as  the 
Scriptures  clearly  show  you.   It's  a  matter  of  devolution." 

I  said,  "What  do  you  mean?" 

He  said,  "Well,  the  world  was  created  by  God  in  4004  B.C.   And 
we  know  that.   That's  been  proven  by — "  (I  forget  the  name,)*  And  he 
said,  "Ever  since  then,  man  has  been  de-volving  instead  of  evolving, 
and  will  until  the  Second  Coming  will  come  and  will  clear  it  all 


Those  were  about  the  exact  words. 

I  said,  "Well,  Dr.  Harriot,  how  do  you  account  for  the  fossils 
in  the  rocks?   I  mean,  geological  history — " 

"Oh,"  he  said,  "that's  a  lot  of  nonsense.  My  dear  young  man, 
God  put  the  fossils  in  the  rocks  to  tempt  our  faith."  [Laughter] 

Well,  that  got  my  innate  scientific  mind,  or  tendency,  really 
mad!   I  remember  telling  my  father  about  it. 

"Well,"  he  said,  "if  Dr.  Harriot  can  multiply  a  time  factor  by 
maybe  a  million.   The  fossils,  you  know,  are  there  like  we  are,  and 
tempting  what  fate?"  He  couldn't  quite  blast  the  old  man — Papa  was 
very  kind.   But  looking  back  at  it,  it's  absolutely  curious  that 
people  have  that  degree  of  logic  in  modern  times! 

This  image  I  had  of  God  was  of  a  bearded  man  in  a  white  robe 
with  a  knapsack  full  of  fossils,  poking  them  in  the  rocks  to  tempt 
the  faith  of  some  serfs  that  would  follow.   So  I  think  from  that 
time  on  I  was  really  soured  on  conventional  religion,  because 
felt  it  was  pretty  bad  and  weak. 

Well,  you  were  ready  to  be  a  pantheist,  I  suppose. 

Yes,  I  guess  I  was,  but  I  never  got  to  the  point  of  the  pathetic 
fallacy.  And  that's  interesting  that  I  didn't,  because  I  very 
easily  could  have.   And  a  lot  of  people  today,  in  this  super- 
conservation  time,  with  movements  and  ideologies,  approach  pantheism 
more  than  I  ever  did.   That  is,  imputing  individualistic  qualities 
to  natural  things.   Who  called  it  the  pathetic  fallacy?   I  can't 
remember  the — wasn't  it  Wordsworth? 

*Bishop  Ussher. 


Teiser:   It  may  have  been  Wordsworth. 

Adams:    Wordsworth  was  kind  of  a  highly  expressive  John  Muir.  Well,  I'll 
try  to  find  out,  because  it  really  is  an  important  element  of 

Teiser:   Well,  maybe  it  was  Ruskin. 

Adams:    I  think  maybe  you're  right.   I  think  maybe  it  ±s^  Ruskin.   Let's 

look  it  up.  [It  was!]   It  means  we  attribute  human  qualities  to  the 
inanimate  or  to  the  nonhuman. 

Of  course,  remember,  being  born  in  San  Francisco,  being  part  of 
the  Golden  Gate  and  the  West  and  the  Sierra  Nevada,  I  have  a 
totally  different  concept  of  the  world  from  the  people  born  in  the 
Midwest  and  the  East. 

Although  the  early  paintings  of  the  Hudson  River  School  are 
really  quite  remarkable.   There  are  some  beautiful  places,  but 
they're  all  on  relatively  small  scale.   You  never  have  this  over 
powering  impact  of  the  West — but  you  have  more  thunderstorms,  which 
make  up  for  it! 

Panchromatic  Plates 

Teiser:   Were  you  aware  of  Carle ton  E.  Watkins's  photographs? 

Adams:    No.   I'm  very  glad  you  brought  that  up,  because  I  didn't  know  about 
Watkins  for  decades.   I  saw  a  lot  of  old  photographs  and  they  didn't 
mean  anything  to  me.   I'd  see  some  and  I'd  say,  "Oh,  they're  terrible.' 
The  only  thrill  I  got  in  that  domain  was  when  I  went  in  to  see  old 
A.C.  Pillsbury — and  he  was  a  rather  remarkable  man.   He  did  the 
first  time-lapse  movies  of  flowers  opening.   Great  man.  He'd 
received  some  Wrattan  &  Wainright  glass  plates  from  England.   And 
they  were  panchromatic,  and  he  used  a  red  filter,  and  he  showed  these 
pictures,  and  you  never  saw  such  glorious  clouds  and  dark  skies,  and 
oh  gosh,  it  was  just  something! 

Well  then,  the  story  should  revert  a  little  to  a  bit  of 
photographic  history  which  is  not  very  much  known.   George  Eastman 
had  a  terrific  industry  by  the  tail,  and  realizing  that  this  thing 
was  just  getting  beyond  him  and  beyond  anybody  on  his  staff,  and 
knowing  that  he  had  to  have  photo-scientists,  he  'd  heard  that  Dr. 
C.E.K.  Mees  was  the  really  top  photographic  scientist  going.   There 
was  somebody  in  Germany,  but  George  didn't  like  the  Germans,  and  he 
went  to  England.  And  he  saw  Mees  and  said,  "I  want  you  to  work  for 


Adams:    me."  He  offered  him  a  salary — very  much  more  than  Mees  could  even 
dream  of  getting  in  England,  and  Mees  said,  "I'm  under  contract  to 
Wrattan  &  Wainright  for  ten  years;  I  can't  accept  it."  What  did 
Eastman  do?  He  bought  out  Wrattan  &  Wainright  [laughter] — to  get 

So  that  was  why  you  had  for  a  while  Kodak-Wrattan  plates.   My 
"Monolith,  the  Face  of  Half  Dome"  is  made  on  one,  incidentally.  And 
the  Wrattan  filters,  which  still  persist  today  are  the  world  standard 
of  color  filters.  They're  now  all  in  gelatins,  but  they  can  be  made 
up  in  glass. 

Mees  was  imported  to  Kodak  in  Rochester  and  became  the 
director  of  research.  And  Eastman  was  a  very  strange  man — a 
bachelor — had  a  great  Momma  complex.  He  was  not  a  very  easily 
understood  person,  but  completely  honorable.  Many  great  stories 
were  told  me  by  Mees.   I  used  to  see  Mees  often  after  he'd  retired 
to  Honolulu.   I'd  go  to  his  home  every  other  day  or  so  while  I  was 
there,  and  we'd  sit  down  and  have  a  drink  by  the  sea  and  talk,  and 
he'd  reminisce.  Loved  to  see  me,  because  it  was  a  way  of  blowing 
off  steam.  Boy,  the  stuff  I  got  from  him!  If  I'd  had  a  tape 
recorder,  it  would  be  invaluable!   I  mean  the  early  part  of  Kodak, 
and  the  struggles,  and  what  was  quality ,  and  why  they  didn't  take 
up  the  Land  projects.   You  see,  Land  had  an  option  of  a  hundred 
or  two  hundred  thousand  dollars  with  Kodak  to  buy  his  project. 
They  were  just  beginning.   And  "Nobby"  [Walter]  Clark  said,  "Oh, 
it's  just  a  toy.  We  can't  do  it." 

Mees  said,  "I  was  inclined  to  favor  us  getting  it,  but  of 
course,  we  couldn't  have  brought  it  out  until  it  had  been  perfected. 
A  young  company  could  bring  out  something  that  isn't  perfect,  but  an 
established  company  cannot  do  that." 

Well,  of  course  Polaroid  is  second  to  Kodak  now,  thank  God 
[laughter],  for  that  very  reason,  and  has  achieved  perfection. 

Mees  told  me  this  wonderful  story  of  advertising.   "I  was  at 
my  desk  early  one  morning  and  a  man  comes  down  and  gives  me  a 
message.   'Mr.  Eastman  wishes  to  see  you  immediately,  without  delay.'" 
And  Mees  thought,  "What  have  I  done  now?"  He'd  never  got  a  message 
like  this  before!   "So  I  went  up  to  the  office."   [Imitates  Eastman — 
hearty  tone:]   "Come  in,  Mees.   Sit  down."  And  he  pulled  out  an 
advertisement  that  had  been  in  the  morning  paper:  'Kodak  makes  the 
best  lenses  in  the  world.'  And  he  says,  "Mees,  is  that  true?"  And 
Mees  said  (he  had  a  couple  of  fast  thoughts,  you  see),  "Well,  I'm  a 
scientist.   I  can't  do  any  sales  or  advertising."  He  said,  "No, 
Mr.  Eastman.   It  isn't  true.   The  Dahlmeyer,  Zeiss,  and  Cooke  and  a 
few  others  make,  really,  better  lenses  than  we  do."   [Imitating 
Eastman:]   "That's  what  I  thought.   I  know  we're  trying.   Thank  you 
very  much." 


Adams:    From  that  time  on,  every  advertisement  that  came  over  the  desk  of 
George  Eastman  had  to  be  checked  by  Mees  and  one  or  another  person 
for  accuracy  and  honesty. 

And  that's  one  of  the  best  things  I  heard  about  Eastman.   He 
was  that  kind  of  a  person. 

I  must  say  that  of  all  the  material  I  use,  Eastman  Kodak's  the 
most  consistent.   They're  the  least  imaginative  company,  the  least 
innovative  in  one  sense — the  aesthetic  sense.  But  they're  really 
a  pretty  fantastic  outfit. 

Teiser:   You  said  that  Pillsbury  showed  you  a  Wrattan  &  Wainright  plate? 

Adams:    Yes.  Wrattan  and  Wainright  were  the  big  English  firm  that  made 
plates  and  filters,  maybe  papers. 

Teiser:   Were  they  new? 

Adams:    Oh  yes.   He  got  some  of  the  first  ones.   And  then  I  got  a  box  when 
they  came  on  the  market.   I  got  two  boxes,  in  fact.   I  guess  I  had 
three,  all  together.  And  that's  what  I  did  the  Monolith  and  other 
early  pictures  with.  Then  Kodak  made  them,  and  they  were  called 
Wrattan  plates. 

Teiser:   Were  they  very  much  better  than  the  material  you'd  been  getting? 

Adams:    Well,  there  was  nothing  like  them  that  I  knew  of.  They  were  the 
first  panchromatic  emulsions  of  any  consequence. 

Then  of  course  they  moved  on  to  panchromatic  film — which  is 
today  the  principal  emulsion.  Basically,  a  photographic  emulsion 
is  only  sensitive  to  blue  light.  Plain  silver  halides  react  only 
to  blue  light.  Now  you  bring  in  a  dye  which  is  sensitive  to  or 
absorbs  the  energy  of  green  light  and  transfers  that  energy,  as 
quantum  energy,  to  the  silver.  That  means  the  emulsion  is  sensitive 
to  green  as  well  as  blue.  Then  you  bring  in  the  dyes  that  absorb 
red  and  green  light,  and  you  have  panchromatic  emulsion. 

They  had  three  types  of  panchromatic — A,  B,  and  C.  A  is  only 
partially  panchromatic.  A  is  red-sensitive,  but  of  rather  low 
green  sensitivity.   Type  B,  which  is  the  standard  film  we  have  today, 
still  has  a  deficiency  in  the  green.  The  green  part  of  the  spectrum 
is  that  area  of  the  spectrum  to  which  the  eye  responds  most.  In 
other  words,  anything  that  is  green  comes  through  with  a  higher 
energy  to  the  eye.  So  if  I  see  a  green  fabric  or  a  green  tree  and 
I  say  I  want  to  place  that  on,  say,  Zone  V  of  the  scale,  I  really 
have  to  place  it  on  VI  to  get  the  "visual"  effect.  That  fools  a 
lot  of  people.  That's  why  you  see  so  many  black  trees  in  mountain 
pictures.   They  are  of  low  color  saturation  to  begin  with,  and 
panchromatic  film  does  further  lower  the  green  values. 


Adams:    The  Panchromatic  C  was  super  red-sensitive,  and  therefore  it  was 
very  fast  with  tungsten  light.   (Tungsten  light  has  a  greater 
proportion  of  red  light  to  it  than  daylight.)  One  effect  was  that 
it  produced  white  lips .  They  had  to  develop  two  correcting  green 
filters  to  take  care  of  the  type  C. 

All  these  things  are  simple  to  understand,  but  very  few  people 
know  about  them  at  all! 

Verichrome  pan  is  a  film  which  is  more  sensitive  to  green  than 
the  ordinary  pan.   Therefore,  it  is  recommended  for  a  lot  of 
landscape  work.   But  it  never  caught  on,  because  people  liked  to  use 
strong  filters  and  get  black  skies,  whereas  in  the  daguerreotype 
and  wet  plate  days,  you'd  only  get  white  skies.  You  could  only  use 
blue  light. 

I  would  say  you  got  a  greater  'stylization  of  values  in  the 
early  days  with  emulsions  sensitive  to  blue  light  only  than  you  do 
now  with  panchromatic  materials.   I  can  duplicate  that  effect  by 
using  a  strong  blue  filter;  it  cuts  out  all  the  other  light. 

We  have  a  series  of  filters  that  partially  withhold  light  of 
various  colors .  And  you  have  filters  which  are  called  tri-color — 
say,  the  blue,  green,  and  red,  which  transmit  the  respective  colors. 
Then  you  have  the  "minus"  filters,  which  are  very  interesting,  such 
as  the  minus  blue  (number  twelve)  and  the  minus  red  and  minus  green. 

Teiser:   Does  "minus  blue"  mean  it  doesn't  let  any  blue  through? 

Adams:    Yes,  it  completely  cuts  out  the  blue.   There's  more  than  a  hundred 
Wrattan  filters.  All  of  these  are  tools  which  the  photographer  can 

Teiser:   This  photograph,  "Banner  Peak  and  Thousand  Island  Lake,"  I  wonder 
what  film  you  used  for  it.   This  is  the  one  that's  variously  dated 
1923  and  1927. 

Adams:    That's  glass  plate.   That's  the  same  as  the  Half  Dome.   I  think  it 
was  made  in  1923  on  that  trip  with  Harold  Saville.  And  it  was  made 
on  a  Wrattan  plate. 

Teiser:   Is  that  why  you  were  able  to  get  such  splendid  sky? 

Adams:    Oh  yes.  Ordinary  orthochromatic  (green-sensitive)  plates  couldn't 
do  that.  The  sky — you'd  get  the  clouds  and  you'd  get  the  clarity, 
but  you  wouldn't  get  that  level  of  richness.   Strange  things  happen 
when  the  sky  drops  in  value  below  the  clouds  (because,  you  see,  the 
sky,  say  at  that  angle,  would  be  around  four  hundred  candles  per 
square  foot,  between  three  and  four  hundred),  and  the  clouds  would  be 
around  eight  hundred  and  a  thousand.   You'd  have  only  a  one  to  two  or 
a  one  to  three  ratio.   And  that  isn't  enough  to  be  dramatic. 


Adams:    Now,  with  orthochromatic  film,  you  could  lower  the  sky  value  a  lot. 
I  mean,  I  get  a  K2  or  G  filter.  But  you  couldn't  lower  the  sky 
value  as  much  as  you  could  with  a  panchromatic  plate  or  film.  And 
that's  why  in  the  early  days  using  blue-sensitive  plates  you  couldn't 
photograph  clouds,  because  the  blue  sky  had  the  same  photometric 
value  as  the  clouds.   So  they  made  separate  negatives  of  clouds. 

When  they  brought  it  down  on  the  scale,  giving  one-eighth  or 
one-sixteenth  the  exposure,  the  clouds  were  obviously  much  brighter 
than  the  sky.   Then  they'd  use  those  cloud  negatives  and  print  them 
in.   Sometimes  they'd  get  them  upside  down.  [Laughter]   Sometimes 
they  got  them  with  light  on  the  cloud  from  the  right  side  and  the 
light  on  the  mountain  from  the  left.  [More  laughter]  I'm  telling 

One  of  the  funniest  ones  was  years  ago.  The  prize-winning 
picture  of  the  Royal  Photographic  Society  in  London.   It  was  a 
picture  of  the  Parthenon,  and  it  was  in  beautiful  late  evening  light. 
The  white  columns  glowed  in  the  late  sun.   And  behind  was  a  thunder 
cloud,  you  see.  A  very  beautiful  picture.  Boy,  that's  something! 
Then  you  look  at  the  light  on  the  columns,  which  is  coming  from 
this  side,  and  the  light  on  the  clouds,  which  is  coming  from  that 
side.  [Laughter] 

And  I  have  a  picture  of  Half  Dome  and  the  moon  which  is  an 
unintentional  phony.  This  picture  of  the  Dome  was  taken  about  two 
in  the  afternoon.  And  I  just  kept  the  camera  in  the  same  place, 
and  the  moon  came  up  after  the  sun  had  completely  gone.  Here's  the 
full  moon  in  the  sky — the  moon  and  Half  Dome.   It's  a  real  moon — 
not  "printed  in."  I  show  that  to  people  and  I  say,  "What's  wrong 
with  this  picture?"  They  can't  figure  it  out. 

V.  Adams:  The  moon  would  never  be  that  high  when  the  sun  is  still  up? 

Adams:    If  you  had  a  perfect  full  moon  there  wouldn't  be  any  sun.  Because, 
it's  always  at  the  same  angle — opposite  the  sun.   And  you  only  get 
the  full  moon  when  the  sun  is  directly  opposite  and  below  the 
horizon.  So  here's  a  full  moon  in  the  sky,  and  the  sun  was  clearly 
high,  which  is  an  absolute  impossibility. 

V.  Adams:  I  think  you  took  it  at  four  in  the  afternoon. 

Adams:    Four,  it  might  have  been.  Well,  now  the  good  one,  the  vertical  one 
(taken  with  the  Hasselblad) ,  the  one  I  use  all  the  time,  that's  a 
real  moon  in  real  time!  That's  about  a  little  over  three-quarters. 
That's  taken  about  three-thirty  or  four — maybe  by  daylight  savings 
time,  five.  And  the  shadows  are  falling  on  the  Dome.  But  the  moon 
is  in  the  right  phase  for  that  position  of  the  sun. 

Teiser:   It's  on  the  cover  of  this  last  Infinity,  May  1972. 


Adams:    Yes.   Also  a  special  edition  print  which  you've  seen  around  a  lot. 
It's  a  very  impressive  picture.   It's  absolutely  real.  There's 
nothing  wrong  there.  That's  the  moon  and  the  Dome,  and  they  are 
taken  together.   But  you  just  can't  bring  the  moon  up  into  the 
wrong  phase,  you  see.  Because  anybody  who  knows  the  disposition 
of  the  heavenly  bodies  is  going  to  immediately  blow  .their  top. 
[Laughs ] 

[End  Tape  10,  Side  1] 
[Begin  Tape  10,  Side  2] 

Dreams  and  Heavenly  Bodies 

—  ~~-  ~  • 

Adams:    As  you  know,  I'm  scientifically  inclined,  and  I  am  not  a  professional 
mystic.  I  cannot  categorically  deny  such  things  as  ESP  or  thought 
transference,  because  I  think  those  are  domains  we  know  nothing 
about.  But  I  can  record  for  you  an  experience  that  when  I  was  a 
young  boy  in  San  Francisco,  before  I  ever  went  to  Yosemite,  I  had 
an  extremely  vivid  dream  of  waking  up  in  a  big  building  on  a  cot. 
I  can  still  remember  the  discomfort  of  the  cot.  And  I  looked  up 
to  my  right  and  here  was  a  multipaned  window — whatever  you  call 
these  window  panes — and  the  moonlight  was  coming  through,  and  it 
gave  me  the  feeling  of  being  in  some  kind  of  a  stone-cast  building. 
The  dream  was  so  extremely  vivid  that  I've  never  forgotten  it.  And 
I've  been  very  sure  now  to  remember  that  it  happened  long  before  I 
went  to  Yosemite. 

And  in  1919  I  was  sleeping  in  the  LeConte  Memorial  on  a  cot, 
and  I  woke  up  and  here  was  the  same  window,  the  same  moon,  the  same 
mood — the  stone  building — the  complete  reconstruction,  if  you  want 
to  say  it,  of  this  dream,  which  had  made  such  an  impression  that  I 
couldn't  forget  it.  And  the  effect  on  me  was  of  course  a  little 
bit  shattering.   I  remember  getting  up  and  turning  on  the  lights 
and  dressing  and  sitting  and  wondering  what  it  was  all  about. 
Because  this  was  a  complete,  detailed  duplication  of  the  dream. 

Whether  that  is  total  coincidence  or  whether  it's  something 
else,  I  don't  know,  but  it's  something  that's  very  important.   And 
I  just  record  it  with  the  assumption  that  it  is  coincidence  and 
probably  emotionally  exaggerated  and  so  on.  But  it  is  something 
that  for  me  was  a  real  occurrence. 

And  of  course  I  do  have  these  dreams  recurrently,  every  six 
months  or  so,  of  getting  in  a  taxi  and  driving  to  a  music  hall  or  an 
opera  house  or  a  symphony  hall,  and  seeing  great  placards  screaming 
that  Ansel  Adams  is  going  to  play  the  Brahms  Second  Concerto  with 


Adams:    the  Boston  Symphony.   It's  all  very  real.   I'm  in  a  terrible  state 
because  I  don't  know  the  Brahms  Second  Concerto  at  all.   But  I 
nevertheless  am  disgorged  at  the  stage  entrance  and  go  in.  All  the 
musicians  are  there  backstage,  tuning  up  and  talking,  and  the 
conductor  comes  forward  and  says,  "I'm  so  glad  to  see  you.  Our 
rehearsal  was  encouraging."  And  I  sit  there,  and  a  slight  feeling 
of  perspiration — "What  am  I  doing  here?"  I  take  a  glimpse,  and  the 
hall  is  completely  packed  with  hundreds  or  thousands  of  people. 
Finally  the  conductor  invites  the  orchestra  to  go  out  on  the  stage, 
and  they  go  out  and  take  their  places.  And  I'm  supposed  to  lead, 
so  I  walk  out  and  the  conductor  follows  me,  and  I  get  as  far  as  the 
piano.  And  the  conductor  bows  and  we  all  bow,  and  he  steps  to  the 

And  at  that  time  I  wake  up  from  the  situation  with  the  screaming 
heeby-jeebies  because  I  don't  know  the  work,  I  don't  know  anything 
about  it,  even  the  first  notes.'   I'm  absolutely  incapable  of  doing 

I've  sometimes  gotten  further  when  it's  been  really  a  very 
traumatic  business.   And  sometimes  I  just  barely  get  out  to  the 
piano.  But  with  the  idea  of  not  knowing  anything  about  the  music 
but  being  fully  billed  for  it,  advertised,  announced.   It  is  a  scary 
situation.  The  orchestra's  good.  And  in  some  strange  way,  I  have 
had  a  rehearsal  of  which  I  remember  nothing.  And  I  keep  getting 
this  dream  over  and  over  again.   I  must  have  had  it  a  dozen  times. 

It's  a  very  interesting  frustration  dream.   I've  had  the  same 
thing  in  climbing — of  climbing  on  an  icy  mountain;  everything  is 
fine — and  then  I  find  myself  stuck,  and  I  don't  know  where  to  go. 
I  suppose  that's  motivated  a  little  bit  by  Muir's  description  of 
Mount  Ritter,  where  he  was  spread-eagled  on  the  cliff  and  couldn't 
see  up  or  down  or  sideways.  Of  course,  he  never  should  have  been 
there  anyway.   (I  never  should  have  been  in  many  of  the  places  I 
was  really  in.)  But  the  instinct  takes  over  and  he  leaps  and  grabs 
a  ledge  and  gets  out  of  his  predicament. 

Well,  I  have  these  dreams — getting  into  absolutely  insoluble 
problems — and  then  I  wake  up.  Sometimes  you  wake  up  with  a  sense 
of  relief,  and  sometimes  you  wake  up,  really,  with  just  shock. 

Teiser:   Ever  dream  photographs? 

Adams:    Yes.  And  I  also  dream  in  color,  which  is  very  interesting.   I'm 
very  conscious  of  color. 

Teiser:   There  are  few  people,  I  think,  who  do. 

Adams:    Yes,  I  think  so.   I  do  dream  in  color.   Things  are  seen  in  colors. 
So  I  can  say  that ,  truthfully . 


Adams:    But  this  other  one  is  such  an  interesting  experience — in  Yosemite 
in  the  LeConte  Memorial.   My  father  always  recounted  of  having  a 
dream — he's  sleeping  out  somewhere  and  he  sees  a  star,  and  the  star 
begins  to  move  toward  him  and  becomes  brighter  and  brighter  and 
brighter.  And  finally  he  wakes  up. 

And  I  had  one  experience — I  was  up,  I  guess,  way  up  in 
Tuolumne  Meadow  somewhere,  where  I  saw  a  meteorite  coming  directly 
at  me,  the  first  time  I've  ever  seen  that.  The  angle  of  approach 
of  the  meteorite  was  right  directly  toward  me,  so  that  the  object 
became  brighter  and  brighter  and  brighter  and  suddenly  extinguished. 
It  was  quite  an  experience.   And  of  course  I  thought  of  my  father's 
dream.   He  might  have  seen  something. 

And  then  lately,  in  late  years,  we've  gone  to  the  high  country, 
and  we  see  satellites.   I  remember  seeing  the  first  Sputnik  from  the 
top  of  the  Polaroid  building  in  Boston.   It  was  going  south  across 
the  sky.  And  many  scientists  were  up  there,  and  they  were  looking 
at  this  with  extraordinary  interest!   Some  of  us  were  just  thinking, 
"What  a  wonderful  thing,"  and  others  were  very  glum:   "They  got 
there  first,"  they  said.  This  little  thing  was  traveling  fast,  and 
it  took  quite  a  time  to  get  down  to  the  horizon.  It  had  a  strange, 
illusionary  flat  trajectory,  and  it  suddenly  winked  out  when  it  got 
in  the  earth's  shadow. 

I  had  a  very  interesting  psychological  experience  in  San 
Francisco.   I  walked  out  of  the  house  one  night,  going  to  my 
darkroom,  which  was  next  door.   And  I  looked  up  at  the  sky — just 
looked  up — a  glance.   (I  always  do,  for  some  reason.)  And  then 
after  a  few  seconds  I  thought,  "What  is  this?"  My  unconscious  said, 
"There's  something  going  on."  I  looked  up  again  and  here  was  a 
satellite  moving.   Now,  the  interesting  thing  was  that  I  looked  up 
just  as  a  glance,  and  yet  my  mental  computers  were  able  to  tell  me 
that  there  was  something  moving  among  the  stars. 

The  mind  is  so  complex — what  goes  on  is  so  remarkable — such  as 
the  speed  with  which  things  are  observed  and  computed.  I  just  took 
a  quick  glance  at  the  sky,  and  then  it  took  ten  seconds  or  more  for 
my  mind  to  tell  me  that  there  was  something  different  up  there. 

Teiser:   Your  visual  computers  must  be  faster  than  most  people's. 

Adams:    I  don't  know.   They're  probably  more  directed  in  some  ways.   They're 
probably  not  any  faster. 


Concepts  of  Conservation  and  Wilderness 

Teiser:    I'll  just  ask  you  one  question  more  about  Yosemite.   Did  you  think 
in  the  early  days,  "This  is  a  place  to  be  preserved"? 

Adams:    Oh  yes.   But  it  was  vaguely  formed  in  my  mind  at  that  time.  The 
question  of  preservation — the  whole  conservation  picture  was 
confused  in  the  early  days.   It  still  is!!  The  Sierra  Club,  with 
their  outings,  was  trying  to  get  people  into  the  mountains  to  see 
them  so  that  they  would  support  legislation  for  their  protection. 
I  used  to  get  a  more  interesting  reaction  going  to  Forest  Service 
country,  like  the  mining  country  at  the  Minarets,  because  of  the 
evidence  of  human  content.   I  think  we  always  felt  the  wilderness 
had  to  be  preserved,  but  we  had  a  very  hazy  idea  what  preservation 
really  meant.  And  we  thought  nothing  of  putting  our  donkey  in  a 
meadow  to  pasture,  and  nothing  of  having  camped  at  a  riverbank. 

Mr.  Holman  had  some  pretty  advanced  ideas.  And  in  fact,  he  was 
the  one  who  promoted  the  idea  of  fire  being  an  important  element  in 
continuing  the  character  of  the  forest.  Then  later  on,  people  came 
and  talked  about  the  fact  that  wilderness  is  an  illusion — "What  do 
you  call  wilderness?"  If  nobody 'd  been  there  ever,  maybe  that's 
wilderness.  But  Yosemite  was  populated  first  with  Indians,  then 
with  sheepherders  and  cattle  people.   So,  I  always  say  wilderness  is 
a  mystique.   It's  a  state  of  mind,  which  we  enjoy,  in  its  so-called 
pristine  quality,  because  we  have  our  wonderful  equipment — the  best 
boots  in  the  world,  the  best  clothing,  condensed  food — all  kinds  of 
things.   It's  like  a  man  going  to  the  moon  and  being  completely 
equipped  with  life-supporting  units.   We  do  the  same  thing  in  a  way 
in  the  wilderness. 

I  think  if  people  in  the  club  today  went  out  and  lived  the  way 
Mr.  Holman  and  I  did  in  the  twenties,  they  couldn't  take  it.   We  had 
mush,  bacon,  egg  powder,  flour,  salt,  some  pepper,  beans,  period. 
You  know,  all  cooked  up  over  an  open  fire  in  tin  cans.  And  my 
digestion  could  take  it!   I  used  to  eat  the  most  colossal  quantities 
of  mush,  my  God!  Quarts!  Just  couldn't  fill  up.  Weighed  120. 

Teiser:   Any  corn  meal? 

Adams:    Well,  sometimes  corn  meal,  but  that  had  its  difficulties.  We 

usually  had  oats — Quaker  oats — and  that  was  before  the  quick  cooking 
kind  too,  and  at  a  high  altitutde  you  have  to  cook  and  cook.  Oh, 
we  had  some  rice;  then  we  had  tomato  sauce.   We  had  a  lot  of  simple 
things — and  we  had  honey.   And  then  of  course  there  was  the  eternal 
biscuit  and  flapjack  situation.   The  diet  was  very  monotonous. 


Yosemite  Concessions 

Adams:    I  think — well,  there's  so  much  more  to  say  there.   I  think  the 

conflict  of  the  early  concessions  in  Yosemite  is  important.   They 
were  all  bad.   Nobody  had  any  feeling  for  the  place  at  all.  Well, 
I  think  Virginia  had  a  real  reaction.   Grace  Ewing  had.   But  people 
who  came  in  the  main  were  a  very  low  order  of  people  as  a  rule.   The 
whole  place  was  a  big  curio,  and  people  as  well  as  the  operators  had 
no  understanding  and  no  respect.  They  sold  these  horrible  curios 
and  pandered  to  the  worst  possible  level  of  taste  you  can  imagine. 
A  lot  of  the  people  got  together  and  petitioned  the  government  to 
build  a  road  up  by  Vernal  and  Nevada  Falls  so  the  public  could  "see" 
it.  Well,  naturally  it  would  ruin  the  place!  I  remember  arguing 
that;  they  laughed  me  down.   "Well,  if  you  had  to  do  business  here, 
you'd  want  more  people,  wouldn't  you?"  Which  is  unfortunately  the 
concessioner's  idea.   Not  really  in  Yosemite  now. 

But  after  the  formation  of  the  big  company  [Yosemite  Park  and 
Curry  Company]  they've  always  given  good  service. 

In  many  ways,  when  you  compare  it  to  all  the  other  parks,  there's 
nothing  anywhere  as  good.  After  all,  you  ask  somebody  to  come  in  and 
run  a  business — accommodations  and  food — and  hopefully  make  a  little 
profit;  it  can't  be  done  on  an  entirely  idealistic  basis.  You  have 
to  have  all  kinds  of  little  things  to  sell  and  "entertainment"  to 

Teiser:   Should  the  government  be  running  the  concessions? 

Adams:    The  government  should  own  all  the  plants  and  lease  the  operations. 
But  you  see,  when  [Stephen  T. ]  Mather  took  over  the  directorship  of 
the  Park  Service  under  President  Wilson — remember,  it  was  a 
Democratic  administration,  and  Mather  was  a  very  prominent  Republican 
businessman  (head  of  the  Borax  Company  of  America)  but  very 
idealistic.  He  felt  that  everything  could  be  operated  on  Republican 
principles,  and  that  private  business  should  be  invited  into  the  park 
to  operate  under  government  supervision.  But  there  wasn't  any 
subsidy — it  was  just  taken  for  granted  that  it  would  be  automatically 
profit-making.  But  what  happened  was  that  people  did  invest  money, 
but  they  didn't  earn  anything.   In  other  words,  they  had  no  property; 
they  just  had  leases  for  the  land.   You  could  build  a  building  on  it, 
but  it  belonged  to  the  government.  You  have  only  a  sort  of  prior 
right  to  it,  and  you  have  to  maintain  it.  The  whole  thing  is  subject 
to  review  now,  and  it's  a  very  important  thing.   The  government  should 
take  over  the  capital  investment,  and  then  lease  operation  on  a 
percentage  basis  under  the  most  strict  controls.   But  who's  going  to 
define  the  "strict  control"?  Who's  going  to  write  the  taste  pattern? 
That's  a  terribly  difficult  thing. 


Adams:    So  we  have  the  eternal  flux  of  enterprise,  idealism,  profit,  loss, 
and  tolerance.  [Laughter] 

Well,  I'll  see  you  again  next  weekend? 
[End  Tape  10,  Side  2] 

Sierra  Club  Photographers 

[Interview  IX  —  2  June  1972] 
[Begin  Tape  11,  Side  1] 

Teiser:   In  1923  you  made  an  album  of  forty-five  exhibit  photographs  for  the 
Sierra  Club.  What  were  they? 

Adams:    I  went  along  for  several  years  on  the  outings  as  the  photographer, 
as  well  as  assistant  manager,  and  I  made  countless  pictures  which 
were  available  to  the  members  at  very  low  cost.  We  would  get  these 
random  orders  one  year,  and  I  decided  the  next  year  I  would  take 
this  number  of  prints  that  I  thought  were  good  and  do  it  all  up  as 
a  portfolio.   It  was  very  cheap,  and  they  weren't  very  good  prints. 
They  were  as  good  as  I  could  make  them  then.   I  wasn't  planning  to 
cut  corners,  but  it  was  just  a  selection  of  pictures  on  the  trip;  a 
group  of  us  got  together  and  picked  out  which  we  thought  were  the 
best  ones.   It  was  a  personal  club  thing. 

It's  like,  way  back  in  1925-1926,  the  LeConte  family  and  I,  we 
met  a  big  pack  train  with  a  lot  of  rich  New  York  bankers — terribly 
important  people  financially,  and  they  had  about  six  mules  per 
person.   They  were  so  anxious — Herbert  Wykoff ,  a  lawyer,  had  told 
them  about  me,  and  they  ordered  several  sets  of  pictures.   I 
remember,  I  got  the  largest  fee  I  ever  received  from  anybody,  which 
was  $750.   It  probably  cost  me  $710  to  do  it.  [Laughs]   These  sets 
were  made  for  these  five  men;  just  a  private  order. 

Teiser:   Were  you  the  first  official  photographer  of  the  Sierra  Club?  Did 
they  make  that  title  up  for  you? 

Adams:    Well,  that  was  an  "apocryphal"  title.  There  were  photographers  that 
had  worked  for  years  with  the  club.   One  of  them  was  Rodney  Gleason. 
Then  there  was  Walter  Huber.   But  I  have  no  idea  what  their  status 
was — whether  they  went  along  for  a  free  trip,  or  whether  they  just 
photographed  for  pleasure.  LeConte  and  Huber  and  Theodore  Solomons, 
all  those  people  made  photographs  on  an  amateur  basis  and  never  made 
anything  out  of  it,  and  that's  why  I,  when  I  did  my  set,  I  did  it 
practically  at  cost  basis,  because  it  was  considered  improper  to 
make  money  out  of  the  club  if  you  weren't  a  professional. 


Adams:     Then  Cedric  Wright  followed  me  in  that  position.   Got  the  free 

outing  for  being  both  sanitary  engineer  and  the  photographer.   He 
made  some  very  fine  photographs,  and  he  sold  them.   But  at  that 
time  he  realized  that  he  was  a  quasi-professional  and  could  make 
something  on  it. 

Sierra  Nevada:  The  John  Muir  Trail 

Adams : 



The  John  Muir  Trail] 

Adams : 

Adams : 

Now,  the  Sierra  Nevada  book  [Sierra  Nevada; 

was  done  in  '38,  I  think.   In  memory  of  Peter  Starr,  his  father 
[Walter  A.  Starr]  sponsored  it. 

I  see  that  it  was  done  by  the  Archetype  Press. 
Bentley,  was  it? 

That  was  Wilder 

Yes,  Wilder  Bentley  in  Berkeley.  And  the  engravings  were  done  by 
the  Donnelley  Company  and  tipped  in.   It's  a  very,  very  rare  book. 
We  call  it  the  "white  elephant."  There's  some  very  poor  pictures 
in  it  and  some  of  my  best.  And  the  reproductions  (letterpress)  as 
a  whole  are  very  fine,  but  the  tip- in,  especially  with  calendared 
or  plated  paper,  is  very  bad  because  the  corners  break.   If  you 
have  a  lithograph  or  a  drawing  on  a  sheet  of  rag  paper,  you  can 
bend  the  corner  and  it  might  not  break,  but  the  baryta  coating  on 
smooth  paper  will  crack.   So  there  have  been  terrible  disasters 
with  the  book,  where  they  folded  the  prints  over  and  they  have 
broken.   These  reproductions  are  on  a  plate  paper — very  smooth 
surface — and  varnished. 

I  was  talking  the  other  day  about  the  baryta  coat,  which  is  a 
white  clay  filler  which  gives  extremely  smooth  paper  surface  and 
of  course  keeps  the  image  away  from  contact  with  the  paper  fibers. 
You  take  one  of  those  engravings  and  bend  it — the  paper  surface 
plus  the  varnish  or  lacquer — you  would  have  a  break. 

Same  thing  with  the  Making  a  Photograph  book,  which  has  tipped- 
in  illustrations,  also  reproduced  by  letterpress. 

That  was  printed  in  large  quantities,  wasn't  it? 

Oh  yes.   It  was  printed  in  many  editions.  But  the  Sierra  Nevada 
book  was  printed  in  only  one  edition. 

And  a  small  one  at  that,  wasn't  it? 
Yes.   I  forget  how  many. 


Teiser:    Did  you  initiate  the  idea,  or  did  Mr.  Starr  initiate  it? 

Adams:     Mr.  Starr  said  he'd  like  to  do  a  memorial  for  his  son  using 

photographs,  and  asked  me  what  did  I  have  to  suggest.  So  I  said, 
"Well,  why  don't  we  do  the  John  Muir  Trail?"  (I  had  photographed 
most  of  the  area.)  "We  can  put  together  something  worthwhile." 

Teiser:    Was  his  son  a  mountaineer? 

Adams:     His  son  was  a  mountaineer — a  loner,  as  they  call  it.  He  was  killed 
on  the  Minarets,  climbing  all  alone,  which  was  a  very  stupid  thing 
to  do.   I  think  he  was  psychologically  rather  strange  in  that  idea 
of  personal  isolation — immolation  would  be  a  good  word.   You  can't 
climb  alone  in  that  kind  of  crags  without  some  day  having  something 
happen  to  you.   So  he  was  found  near  the  top  of  one  of  the  Minarets 
by  Norman  Clyde.   He  was  buried  there;  they  just  cemented  him  in  on 
a  ledge.   The  best  thing  to  do. 

Teiser:    What  a  wonderful  memorial  to  him. 

Adams:     Well,  his  father  was  a  very  prominent  man — businessman,  connected 
with  the  Sierra  Club,  of  course,  intimately — president  and  so  on. 
Walter  and  I  had  been  on  trips.  He  lived  to  be  eighty-seven  or 
something.   A  very  fine  person.   Of  course,  he  didn't  have  any 
idea  of  books,  and  he  was  rather  appalled  at  the  cost.  And  I  think 
we  sold  the  book  for  fifteen  dollars.   It  says  in  the  colophon  in 
the  back  that  five  hundred  copies  were  printed. 

When  I  have  done  a  book,  I  can  remember  nothing  about  it. 
I  can't  remember  the  sequence  of  pictures — 

Teiser:  Did  you  work  with  Wilder  Bentley  on  it? 

Adams:  Oh  yes,  we  worked  very  closely  on  it. 

Teiser:  What  was  he  like? 

Adams:  Very  fine  man,  very  capable  craftsman. 

Teiser:    There's  an  acknowledgement  in  the  book.   It  says,  "For  permission 

to  use  many  of  the  pictures  reproduced  in  this  volume,  I  am  indebted 
to  Alfred  Stieglitz,  the  Studio  Publications,  the  Sierra  Club 
Bulletin,  Camera  Craft  magazine,  and  many  other  organizations  and 
individuals."  What  does  that  mean? 

Adams:     The  acknowledgements  are  merely  a  courtesy  to  previous  use  of  the 
pictures.  And  it  really  isn't  necessary. 

Teiser:    They  didn't  have  rights? 


Adams:     They  had  no  legal  copyrights.   But  Stieglitz  gave  me  an  exhibit, 
and  the  Sierra  Club  and  these  people  that  had  used  the  pictures — 
I  just  wanted  to  give  them  credit.   These  acknowledgements,  which, 
as  I  said,  have  no  legal  obligation,  as  they  would  if  rights  had 
been  secured. 

For  instance,  the  pictures  in  my  Portfolios  Five  and  Six  are 
strictly  limited  and  under  the  control  of  the  Parasol  Press.  So 
if  the  Morgans,  who  are  doing  my  monograph*,  want  to  reproduce  one, 
they  have  to  get  permission  of  the  Parasol  Press  and  pay  a  use  fee. 
Otherwise  I'd  be  in  difficulty,  because  I'm  never  supposed  to  let 
any  of  those  things  out.  The  Parasol  Press  bought  the  entire 
edition  and  the  rights  of  use. 

The  courtesy  is  sometimes  based  on  economic  necessity,  but 
most  times  it's  based  on  ethical  consideration — these  people 
encouraged  me  and  showed  my  work. 

Teiser:    These  photographs  in  the  Sierra  Nevada  book  had  been  made,  then, 
over  quite  a  series  of  years? 

Adams:     Oh  yes. 

Teiser:    We'd  like  to  have  on  the  record  your  comments  on  some  of  your 

photographs,  and  since  these  are  published,  so  that  people  could 
see  copies  of  them,  could  you  just  look  at  the  book  and  discuss 
them  by  title? 

Adams:     Well,  the  frontispiece,  of  the  mountain  climbers,  was  on  the 
Minarets,  and  one  of  those  is  Dave  Brower. 

Teiser:    Which  one? 

Adams:     I  think  it's  this  one  [the  one  at  the  top]. 

Then,  the  "Yosemite  Valley"  shows  many  of  the  very  first 
negatives  I  made  with  an  eight  by  ten  camera.  These  negatives  are 
catalogued  as  I-Y-I  et  seq.   "I"  signifies  eight  by  ten,  "Y"  is 
Yosemite,  and  "I"  is  the  serial  number.   I  forget  the  dates,  but 
most  were  early,  as  is  the  "Bridalveil  Fall,"  which  is  on  a  glass 
plate.  And  "Half  Dome,  Yosemite  Valley,"  with  a  thunder  cloud, 
is  again  one  of  my  early  good  ones.   I  was  always  a  little  worried 
about  trimming,  cropping  it,  but  it  has  wonderful  variation  of 
"feeling"  depending  on  the  cropping. 

*Subsequently  published. 
Morgan  &  Morgan,  1972) 

Ansel  Adams  (Hastings-on-Hudson,  New  York: 


Teiser:    Is  this  cropped  to  your  satisfaction? 

Adams:     No,  not  entirely. 

Teiser:    Are  these  somewhat  reduced  from  negative  size? 

Adams:     Well,  it  depends:  the  largest  negative  size  I  use  is  eight  by  ten. 
Now,  "Vogelsang  Peak"  was  made  on  a  five  by  seven  negative  in  the 
late  twenties.   That's  up  near  Tuolumne  Pass. 

Teiser:    What  time  of  day  was  that? 

Adams:     It  could  be  late  in  the  day,  very  late,  perhaps  an  hour  and  a 
half  before  sunset.   "Mount  Lyell,"  with  Lyell  Canyon  and  the 
Tuolumne  River,  that  was  done  early  too,  and  on  an  eight  by  ten 

Teiser:    By  "early"  you  mean  in  the  twenties? 

Adams:     Well,  around  in  that  area.  Maybe  early  1930s.  The  "Grass  and 
Burned  Stump,"  that's  on  a  four  by  five.  And  was  done  near 
Wawona.   "Banner  Peak  and  Thousand  Island  Lake"  is  a  6  1/2  by  8  1/2 
glass  plate  done  way  back  in  the  twenties. 

Teiser:    That's  what  Mrs.  Newhall  said  is  your  first  significant  picture? 

Adams:     Well,  I  think  the  "Monolith,  the  Face  of  Half  Dome"  was,  but 
there's  some  discussion  about  the  dates. 

Teiser:    Oh,  you  mean  the  discussion  concerns  the  dates,  not  the  significance? 

Adams:     Both!   This  "Shadow  Lake"  is  one  of  the  best  ones.   I  took  many  on 
that  trip,  but  these  were  mostly  on  6  1/2  by  8  1/2  glass  plates, 
whereas  the  other  later  ones  are  on  eight  by  ten  glass  plates  and, 
of  course,  four  by  five  film. 

Teiser:    That  was  well  before  your  announced  rejection  of  pictorialism,  and 
yet  "Shadow  Lake"  is  not  pictorial  in  any  way. 

Adams:     Yes.   The  first  prints  were  made  on  goofy  paper,  but  the  negatives 
were  pretty  good.   Many  were  damaged  in  my  Yosemite  darkroom  fire, 
so  in  order  to  reproduce  them  now,  we  must  have  the  prints 
"retouched"  by  the  engraver.   This  "Shadow  Lake,  Mount  Ritter  and 
Banner  Peak"  was  done  on  a  five  by  four  film.   It's  very  interesting. 
The  Graflex  people  put  out  a  roll  film  holder  in  which  the  image 
proportions  were  full  four  by  five.  Now  the  standard  four  by  five 
film  is  a  four  by  five  sheet,  but  it  has  a  small  margin  around  it — 
areas  to  secure  it  in  the  film  holder.   But  these  Graflex  roll  films 
actually  were  full  four-  by  five-inch  images,  which  of  course  no 
four  by  five  enlarger  will  take.   I  have  to  use  a  bigger  enlarger. 


Adams:     "The  Pass"  was  made  on  3  1/4-  by  4  1/4-inch  roll  film. 
Teiser:    What  pass  is  that? 

Adams:     Well  [pause] — that's  always  a  question.   It's  somewhere  in  the  San 
Joaquin  Sierra.  I've  forgotten  the  name.   It's  near  Isaac  Walton 
Lake — in  that  area. 

"Upper  Iceberg  Lake."  Well,  this  is  a  heavy  snow  year,  you 
see.  This  was  five  by  four.  This  was  taken  the  same  time  as  the 
other  lake. 

"Michael  Minarets"  is  the  same.  I  think  that's  the  one  that 
Peter  Starr  was  killed  on. 

Teiser:    Is  that  in  the  original  proportion?  Isn't  it  narrower  than — ? 

Adams:     Well,  I  don't  follow  strictly  the  film  format.   Negatives  come  in 
certain  sizes,  and  sometimes  you  follow  them  and  sometimes  you 
"crop."  And  this  has  always  been  much  better  cropped  narrower. 
There's  a  lot  of  "disturbance"  on  the  edge  of  the  negative.   So  a 
narrow  crop  is  indicated. 

This  is  a  four  by  five,  "Rock  and  Water,"  in  the  northern  part 
of  Yosemite  National  Park,  in  the  Virginia  Canyon  area.   It  was 
done  in  gray  light. 

Teiser:    These  hold  their  full  scale  quite  well,  don't  they — these 

Adams:     Yes,  these  reproductions  are  wonderful. 

That  is  the  Devil's  Post  Pile  monument,  which  is  east  of 
Yosemite,  on  the  John  Muir  Trail. 

"Red  and  White  Mountain."  We  are  now  getting  into  the  San 
Joaquin  (South  Fork)  Sierra.  This  drains  into  the  Middle  Fork. 
Bear  Creek  Spire,  Mount  Starr  (the  mountain  off  Mono  Pass). 

This  is  just  "Leaves,"  somewhere  in  the  Sierra. 
Teiser:    What  kind  of  lighting  is  that? 
Adams:     It's  gray  light.  Sky  light  or  late  evening  or  clouds. 

"Pilot  Knob" — this  has  another  name.  It's  an  erroneous  name 
and  I  forget  what  it  is.  This  is  Evolution  Creek,  all  right,  but 
it's  not  "Pilot  Knob."  "Emerald  Peak  and  Cloud  Shadows."  That's 
near  Muir  Pass. 


Adams:     Then  here's  "Lake  Near  Muir  Pass."  I  think  it's  Wanda  Lake.   It's 
interesting;  was  done  before  the  time  of  polarizers.  We  are 
looking  down  through  clear  water  to  submerged  rocks.   This  shows 
how  pure  that  water  was!  It's  very  clear,  and  the  sky  was  deep 
blue.   If  there  had  been  clouds  in  the  sky,  you  would  have  had  a 
terrible  time  with  the  cloud  reflections. 

"Black  Giant"  near  Muir  Pass  is  a  telephotograph.  It  is  of 
black  slate  which  is  accentuated  by  the  cloud  shadows  here. 

Then  "Flowers  and  Rock."  That's  somewhere  in  the  Kings  River 
Sierra.   "Grouse  Valley"  is  in  the  Middle  Fork  of  the  Kings.  The 
LeContes  did  a  lot  of  exploration  in  there. 

Teiser:    What  time  of  year  do  you  get  those  big  clouds? 
Adams:     Well,  even  in  summer — July,  August. 

"Bishop  Pass  and  the  Inconsolable  Range."  That's  a  spur  on 
the  east  side,  near  Bishop  Pass.   It's  a  great  thunderstorm  area; 
it's  usually  muttering  with  thunder.   "Inconsolable"  is  a 
marvelous  name.   Theodore  Solomons  gave  many  of  the  names  during 
his  early  travels,  like  Scylla  and  Charybdis,  and  the  Gorge  of 
Despair  and  many  names  of  classic  derivation. 

"Devil's  Crags  from  Palisade  Creek  Canyon" — this  is  on  the 
Middle  Fork  of  the  Kings  country.   "Cascade,  Palisade  Creek  Canyon." 
I  forget  what  mountain  that  is.  And  this  is  "The  North  Palisade;" 
this  is  looking  northeast — big  thunderstorm  is  building  up. 

Teiser:    Did  you  often  have  to  work  on  very  sloping  ground? 

Adams:     Oh  no.  You'd  come  to  the  top  of  a  ridge.  Then  maybe  use  a  long 
lens,  which  would  avoid  foreground. 

"Rocks  and  Grass" — that's  typical  of  almost  anywhere  in  the 

"Mount  Winchell"  is  one  of  the  Palisades — the  northern  area. 
This  is  at  sunset.  It  is  a  telephotograph  taken  from  eight  miles 

Teiser:    How  long  a  lens  was  that? 

Adams:     Well,  it's  what  they  call  an  adjustable  telephoto,  a  Dallmeyer 
Adon,  which  has  a  positive  lens  in  the  front  which  picks  up  the 
image,  and  then  a  negative  lens  in  the  back  which  magnifies  it  in 
relation  to  the  extension.   It's  not  optically  very  good,  but  I 
have  done  some  pretty  good  things  with  it . 


Adams:     Then  "Mather  Pass" — that's  going  over  from  the  Middle  Fork  to  the 
South  Fork,  Kings. 

And  "Marion  Lake"  was  up  in  Cartridge  Creek.   This  is  named 
after  Joe  LeConte's  first  wife,  Helen  Marion  Gompertz.  And  her 
ashes  are  there,  and  a  little  plaque  on  a  beautiful  rock  somewhere 
over  here.  This  was  taken  with  a  glass  plate.  Later  we  took  the 
Sierra  Club  outing  party  across  this  country,  which  is  about  the 
roughest  thing  we've  ever  done,  fifteen,  twenty  miles  from  Granite 
Pass.  And  it  was  really  a  tough  thing,  and  the  packers  were  so 
glad  to  see  the  pass  down  to  the  lake.  But  getting  one  hundred 
animals  over  this  rough  stuff  is  really  terrific. 

And  "Arrow  Peak  from  Cartridge  Pass" — Cartridge  Pass  goes  over 
into  the  upper  South  Fork  of  the  Kings.   And  then  when  you  cross 
over  beyond  Arrow  Peak  you're  going  into  the  Kern  River  Sierra. 

And  "Pinchot  Peak,"  which  is  really  Mount  Wynne:   I  misnamed 
it.  And  again,  the  cloud  shadows  are  marvelous.   I  remember  working 
very  hard  on  that  one.  Obviously  at  timber  line. 

Here  is  "Mount  Clarence  King,"  and  this  is  in  the  upper  South 
Fork  of  the  Kings  River,  and  there's  a  little  non  sequitur  here. 
I  mean,  if  you're  going  in  a  given  direction,  these  pictures 
aren't  in  the  right  sequence. 

Teiser:    They're  not  entirely  as  you  would  go? 
Adams:     No.  Then  "Rae  Lakes"  and  the  Red  Dragon. 
Teiser:    The  water  must  have  been  extremely  still  there. 

Adams:     Well,  there  are  little  ripples,  but  sometimes  the  lakes  are  just 

"The  Mount  Brewer  Group  from  Glen  Pass."  And  this  is  made 
with  a  twelve-inch  process  lens  on  a  four  by  five  film.   It  is  very 

Teiser::   Have  you  often  used  process  lenses? 

Adams:     Well,  I  had  one  for  years — still  have  it.  One  of  the  sharpest 
lenses  I've  got.   It's  just  a  little  thing.   It's  twelve  inches 
focal  length  and  a  maximum  aperture  of  f/11,  so  the  diameter  of  the 
lens  is  only  a  little  over  an  inch. 

Teiser:    I  thought  they  did  something  strange  optically. 

Adams:     Well,  as  you  stop  down  you  usually  have  to  refocus;  the  process 

lenses  are  corrected  for  near  objects.   If  you  don't  remember  that, 
as  you  stop  the  lens  down,  you  have  to  change  the  lens  position, 
because  it's  not  corrected  for  infinity. 


Adams:     Then  "Manzanita  Twigs"  could  be  anywhere  in  the  Sierra. 

"Peaks  and  Talus,  Kings  River  Canyon" — this  is  the  Grand 
Sentinel.  This  is  taken  at  the  bottom  of  a  huge  rock  pile,  looking 
up  four  thousand  feet. 

The  "Kearsarge  Pinnacles"  are  in  the  upper  Kings,  on  the  way 
to  Kearsarge  Pass,  and  Forester  Pass,  which  leads  into  the  Kern 
River  Sierra.  This  is  "Junction  Peak,"  near  Forester  Pass.  We  were 
there  on  a  good  juicy,  icy  year,  because  usually  this  is  probably 
all  clear  of  ice  even  in  July. 

Teiser:    About  what  time  of  year  would  this  have  been? 
Adams:     Oh,  this  was  in  July,  late  July. 

Then  when  you're  over  in  the  Kern,  you  have  the  "Diamond  Mesa," 
where  the  timber  line  is  very  high. 

"Milestone  Mountain,"  that's  right,  taken  from  a  place  just 
a  few  feet  above  timber  line.  That  is  on  the  Kings-Kern  divide. 
It  goes  from  the  Kaweah  Range  north  to  Hamilton  Pass. 

Then  there's  "Mount  Whitney"  from  the  rear,  above  Crabtree 
Meadow — 

Teiser:    What's  the  shadow — 

Adams:  Well,  it's  late  in  the  day.  These  are  all  shadows  of  big  gorges, 
you  see.  It's  very  impressive — one  of  my  best  pictures,  I  think. 
Quiet  things  are  happening  in  the  sky  that  are  nice. 

Then  here's  the  "Whitney  Pinnacles  (East  Face)"  and  that's 
from  a  five  by  seven  negative. 

Then  "Sky  Parlor  Meadow"  is  in  the  Kaweah  group  at  the  base 
of  the  Kaweah  Range.   It  is  a  big  meadow  on  the  Chagoopah  Plateau. 
Moraine  Lake,  Sky  Parlor  are  all  very  high  in  that  area.  "Rock  and 
Water"  (a  typical  Sierra  scene).   "Mount  Kaweah,  Moraine  Lake"— the 
Red  Kaweah  and  the  Black  Kaweah  in  the  distance. 

Teiser:    Red  Kaweah  is  the — 

Adams:     The  big  rounded  peak.  And  then  here's  the  "Kaweah  Peaks  from  Little 
Five  Lakes."  The  Red  Kaweah 's  way  down  to  the  right.   In  fact,  up 
in  the  Chagoopah  Plateau  is  where  I  found  my  meteorite. 

And  this  is  the  Black  Kaweah,  then  the  Middle  and  the  Red. 
That  is  a  tree  that's  just  fallen;  we  are  looking  over  to  the  peaks 
of  the  Kern  Canyon. 


Adams:  And  this  is  "Lake  and  Cliffs,"  known  as  Precipice  Lake  on  the  way 
through  Sequoia  Park,  over  the  Kaweah  Gap,  as  they  call  it,  which 
leads  you  into  the  Kern  River  Sierra. 

Teiser:    Are  these  made  before  your  Canyon  de  Chelly  pictures? 

Adams :     Oh  yes . 

Teiser:    Thank  you  so  much  for  going  through  your  book. 

Adams:     This  is  my  own  copy.  You  know,  there  are  series  of  about  five 

or  six  copies  of  the  ten  copies  that  weren't  numbered.   [Reading] 
"Five  hundred  copies."  Well,  there  should  have  been,  say,  510. 
"The  book  was  printed... by  Wilder  and  Ellen  Bentley."  But  it's 
very  funny — they  say,  "engravings  and  prints."  Well,  what  they 
mean — they  tipped  in  engravings  which  came  from  the  Lakeside  Press, 
Chicago. * 

Teiser:    Well,  thank  you! 

Adams:     Now,  I  don't  think  that  was  too  much  of  an  ordeal.  Boy,  this  tape 
is  going  to  be  priceless  for  all  these  verbal  accidents!  [Laughter] 

I  find  it  very  difficult  to  remember  dates.   I  can  usually 
remember  places.   I  can't  remember  some  of  those  rock  pictures, 
except  that  first  one,  which  I  know  was  up  in  the  Virginia  Canyon — 
Cold  Creek — in  the  northern  part  of  Yosemite.   But  for  the  "Rock 
and  Grass"  and  the  others,  I  just  have  a  complete  blank.   I  can 
still  see  myself  with  the  camera  there,  but  I  can't  geographically 
place  them.   Of  course,  the  Sierra  is  so  similar,  in  certain 
geological  belts,  that  you  really  can't  tell.  An  expert  could  pick 
out  a  different  type  of  granite,  or  some  other  minute  variations. 

When  you  go  up  Cartridge  Creek,  you  have  a  marvelous  stone 
that  is  crystalline,  shiny,  multicolored,  and  that  will  blend  into 
granite,  and  the  granite  yields  to  slate — metamorphic  rock  is  the 
real  name  for  it.   It  may  not  be  the  true  "slate"  we  know  of. 

Then  there's  traces  of  great  volcanic  action- 
cap,  and  so  on. 

•the  ancient  lava 

And  then  jointed  granite  and  granite  that's  been  glaciated  and 
formed  the  roche  moutonnee  that  you  find  around  Merced  Lake,  Tenaya 
Lake,  and  in  the  Yosemite  country  in  general.   I  know  very  well  if 
a  subject  is  in  the  Rockies  or  in  the  Cascades.  But  I  can't  pin 
point  things  in  the  Sierra. 

*Part  of  R. R.  Donnelley  &  Sons  Company. 


Skiing  in  the  Mountains 

Teiser:    In  the  1930  Sierra  Club  Bulletin  you  had  an  article  on  a  ski  trip. 
Skiing  was  apparently  quite  new  then  in  this  country. 

Adams:     Yes,  they'd  been  making  experiments  with  skiing  in  Yosemite,  and 
the  company  was  trying  to  promote  ski  activity  in  the  winter. 
They  had  a  miserable  little  ski  hill  called  "The  Moraine"  which 
is  in  the  east  end  of  the  valley.  The  Tenaya  Glacier  and  the 
Merced  Glacier  joined  here  and  made  a  medial  (I  think  it's  called) 
moraine.  And  I  think  the  whole  thing's  about  110  feet  high,  and 
when  they  have  show  on  the  north  side  you  can  ski  down  it.  But 
that  was  a  pretty  pitiful  ski  situation. 

Then  they  built  a  little  hut  up  on  Mount  Watkins  and  would 
take  animals  up  as  far  as  they  could  get  up  the  zigzags  of  the 
Snow  Creek  Trail.  The  skiing  up  there  is  pretty  wonderful.   But 
all  I  did  was  cross-country  skiing — climb  with  seal  skins,  employ 
telemark  turns  and  sitzmarks  and  everything  unorthodox  you  can 
imagine . 

In  1930  I  took  this  trip  to  get  photographs,  with  the  group 
that  went  around  the  High  Sierra  camps  to  fill  the  ice  houses. 
We'd  go  to  Lake  Tenaya,  and  would  spend  two  or  three  days  filling 
the  ice  houses  with  snow,  and  I'd  try  to  photograph  as  best  I 
could.   The  ski  instructor,  Jules  Fritsch,  and  myself  would  go  off 
to  the  high  places.  We  got  into  pretty  tough  scrapes  sometimes 
because  we  really  didn't  know  too  much  about  cross-country  skiing 
in  the  Sierra. 

We  went  to  Glen  Aulin  and  then  to  Tuolumne  Meadows,  whereupon 
everybody  came  down  with  some  sort  of  food  poisoning  from  a  bad 
can  of  food.   I  was  the  only  one  that  escaped.  And  here  I  was  all 
alone,  a  storm  was  coming  up,  and  all  these  four  people  were  sick 
as  dogs.   Should  have  been  hospitalized.  We  were  there  for  three 
or  four  days . 

Finally  they  recovered.  The  last  day  we  got  up  at  two  in  the 
morning;  it  was  six  below  zero  (this  is  Tuolumne  Meadows),  and  we 
started  out  over  Tuolumne  Pass  and  down  to  Merced  Lake.  And  there 
was  no  place  to  stay.   There  was  no  food  at  the  ranger  camp,  so  we 
went  on  to  the  Merced  Lake  Camp.  And  that  was  the  most  exhausting 
thing  I've  ever  done  because  I  had  a  fifty-pound  pack;  had  to  climb 
up  to  the  top  of  the  pass  and  then  photograph  and  then  go  down,  and 
when  we  got  down  about  fifteen  hundred  feet  into  the  Merced  Canyon 
the  snow  would  break  through  the  manzanita.  We'd  collapse;  we'd  go 
through  the  tangle  and  we'd  take  spills,  one  after  the  other. 


Adams:     We  got  down  to  the  ranger  cabin  at  the  foot  of  the  trail,  and  the 
bears  had  gotten  into  it  and  there  was  nothing  left.  So  we  had  to 
ski  further  in  mush,  as  they  call  it,  to  the  Merced  Lake  camp,  and 
we  were  able  to  get  something  there.   But  we  were  absolutely  so 
tired  we  couldn't  see  straight.'  We  spent  one  day  doing  nothing. 
While  the  others  were  filling  the  ice  house,  Jules  and  I  went  up  to 
Lake  Washburn  (I  have  quite  a  number  of  pictures),  then  returned 
the  final  thirteen  miles  to  the  valley. 

Teiser:    How  could  you  carry  your  equipment? 
Adams:     In  a  knapsack.   It  was  all  up  in  the  pack. 

I  had  one  very  amusing  occurrence.   I  had  my  camera  in  my 
knapsack,  with  my  tripod  sticking  up  and  I  was  following  Jules 
Fritsch,  who  was  a  very  accomplished  skier.   As  we  came  down  the 
slopes  from  Tuolumne  Pass  we  encountered  a  group  of  alders,  and 
Jules  ducks  and  goes  right  through  this  group.   I  do  exactly  the 
same  thing  but  did  not  realize  that  my  tripod  was  sticking  up 
above  my  head.  The  tripod  catches  in  these  alders,  and  my  skis  go 
up  and  lace  in  the  trees.   They  had  to  come  to  get  me  out  and  take 
my  skis  off,  and  then  unravel  them  from  the  alder  branches.   Of 
course  if  I'd  broken  a  ski,  I'd  have  been  in  dire  trouble,  or  worse 
trouble  if  I'd  broken  a  leg.   But  that  was  the  most  awful  spot  to 
be  in!!   All  I  can  remember  is  suddenly  feeling  the  pull  back  and 
seeing  the  skis  go  up  with  a  loud  whack.   But  I  didn't  break  them. 

Teiser:    You  mean  to  say  that  there  were  four  of  you  out  skiing  that  far 
away  without  an  extra  pair  of  skis  or  a  pair  of  snowshoes  or 

Adams:     Yes.   It  was  very  foolish,  extremely  foolish.  Well,  there  was  a 
pair  of  snowshoes  in  these  various  camps.   Some  of  them  had  been 
chewed  up  by  animals.   But  that  wouldn't  do  you  any  good  if  you 
broke  an  ankle  or  a  leg.   I  don't  know  what  you'd  do.   I  guess 
they'd  just  cut  down  some  trees  and  make  a  sled  and  haul  you.  You 
have  to  figure  that  you  have  so  many  miles  to  go.   If  you're  a  fast 
walker,  you 'go  between  four  and  five  an  hour,  and  a  fast  skier 
downhill  can  go  very  fast.  But  under  different  conditions  you  might 
take  two  or  three  hours  for  a  mile.   If  there's  ten  miles,  there's 
twenty  or  thirty  hours.  No  way  out  of  it;  nothing  else  to  do. 

Teiser:    Well,  you  must  have  been  a  pretty  good  skier. 

Adams:     Oh  no.  Pretty  good  cross  country,  in  that  I  had  a  lot  of 

endurance.  And  I  could  make  what  they  call  a  telemark  turn,  which 
is  the  first  thing  we  learned,  where  you  bend  the  knee  in  the  inner 
part  of  the  curve.   It's  quite  a  graceful  turn.  We  didn't  have  the 
Christiana  at  that  time  at  all.  Of  course,  it's  as  complicated  as 


Adams:     golf  is  now.  There's  all  kinds  of  wax  for  different  things,  and 
different  kinds  of  skis  and  different  kinds  of  bindings.  The  old 
bindings  you  would  just  latch  on  and  the  leg  would  come  apart 
before  it  would  leave  the  ski.   Now  they  have  bindings  that  under 
a  certain  stress  will  give  way,  you  see,  which  saves  lots  of  bones. 
But  still  it's  a  very  accident- infested  sport. 

Teiser:    Did  you  go  on  skiing? 

Adams:     Oh,  I  did  a  little,  but  I  never  liked  it.  I  liked  the  cross 

country,  but  we  did  not  have  winter  camping  equipment.  Now,  you 
know,  they  can  go  out  for  weeks  with  all  this  beautiful  equipment. 
I  have  a  space  blanket,  for  instance,  which  is  aluminum  foil,  and 
it's  light  as  a  feather.   If  you  put  the  foil  [surface  on  the 
inside]  around  you,  in  ten  minutes  you're  hot.  And  in  hot  weather, 
you  put  the  foil  around  you  on  the  outside  and  you're  cool.  And 
they  have  these  two-  or  three-pound  down  sleeping  bags,  and  the 
way  you  do  it  now,  you  just  dig  a  hole  in  the  snow  and  sleep,  and 
keep  out  the  moving  air,  because  the  chill  factor  can  be  very  bad 
in  high  altitudes  with  cold  and  wind. 

Teiser:    Well,  did  the  Sierra  Club  interest  continue  interesting  itself  in 

Adams:     Oh  yes.   They  have  important  ski  Sections  now.   Ski  mountaineering- 
cross  country  skiing — is  very  much  in  vogue  now,  which  I  think  is  a 
wonderful  way  to  really  enjoy  the  wilderness.   Skimobiles  are 
atrocious.   They're  just  a  horrible  intrusion.   And  while  they 
don't  do  direct  physical  damage,  because  they  are  on  snow,  they  do 
create  noise  and  aesthetic  damage,  and  they  disturb  wildlife,  of 
which  a  surprising  amount  is  out  in  winter.  And  they  destroy  any 
sense  of  wilderness  you  have.   But  their  tracks  will  melt.   But 
of  course  some  of  them  want  to  clear  routes.   They  want  an  open 
forest  so  they  can  go  through  these  like  you  do  with  a  ski  lift. 
But  that's  only  a  short  distance.   The  average  snowmobile  track 
will  be  many  miles  long,  which  I'm  very  much  against. 

Teiser:    I  read  somewhere  that  you  moved  your  main  residence  to  Yosemite 
Valley— was  it  in  1937? 

Adams:     Yes.  My  wife's  father  [Harry  C.  Best]  died  in  1936  in  San 

Francisco.  And  then  we  negotiated;  in  fact,  her  father  had  formed 
a  little  family  corporation,  which  allowed  continuity.  The  general 
idea  had  been  that  when  the  individual  concessioner  died,  that  was 
the  end.  We  applied  to  take  it  on,  and  the  National  Park  Service 
agreed,  and  we  moved  up  there  in  '37.  We  were  there  for  quite  a 
few  years  as  our  basic  home,  and  rented  the  San  Francisco  place. 
Well,  it  was  impossible  for  me  to  do  professional  work  in  Yosemite; 
it's  illegal  for  an  individual  to  do  any  private  work.   So  I  had  to 


Adams:     come  back  to  San  Francisco  and  set  up  my  headquarters.   And  then  the 
kids  were  in  school  in  Yosemite  and  Mariposa.   So  we  commuted. 
After  getting  a  good  manager  in  Yosemite  we  moved  to  San  Francisco. 

The  Sierra  and  Other  Ranges 

Adams:     I  never  missed  a  year  in  Yosemite  since  1916.  Never  a  minimum  of 
less  than  five  or  six  trips — well,  except  in  the  first  five  years, 
when  my  trips  were  just  in  the  summer.   But  I  think  about  1926  or 
'27  I  was  there  three  or  four  times;  in  '28  only  twice;  '29  very 
much.   So  in  a  sense  it's  always  been  a  second  home. 

Teiser:  Twenty-eight  was  the  year  you  were  married,  wasn't  it? 

Adams:  Yes.  And  I  went  to  Canada  with  the  Sierra  Club. 

Teiser:  You  were  on  that  high  mountain  trip  in  Canada? 

Adams:  Yes. 

Teiser:  Jasper — 

Adams:  Jasper  and  Mount  Robson,  but  I  did  not  go  to  Yellowstone  in  1929. 

Teiser:  Did  you  publish  any  of  the  Jasper  pictures? 

Adams:  A  few  in  the  Sierra  Club  Bulletin. 

Teiser:  Did  you  enjoy  photographing  there? 

Adams:     Well,  some  of  it's  pretty  good,  but  it's  not  like  the  Sierra. 

Sedimentary  rocks  do  not  have  the  shapes  and  the  strength.   The 
Canadian  Rockies  have  a  wonderful  mood,  but  it's  one  of  the  most 
infested  areas  you  can  possibly  imagine — mosquitoes,  horseflies; 
bad  trails  and  very  erratic  weather.   Of  course  it's  quite  far 
north,  so  you're  always  up  at  two  in  the  morning  to  start  climbing. 
And  climbing  was  very  dangerous  because  it's  friable  rock. 

It's  another  world,  and  it's  very  spectacular.  Something  like 
Glacier  Park.   In  fact,  Glacier  and  Waterman  Park  are  much  the  same. 
As  far  as  I  can  make  out  from  pictures,  the  Selkirks  probably  give 
more  the  feeling  of  the  Sierra,  being  more  craggy  and  pointed.  But 
whenever  you  get  into  lava  or  sedimentary  rock,  you  do  not  have  the 
clean-cut  form  that  you  get  with  crystalline  rocks. 

Now,  I  don't  know  what  the  Matterhorn  is — I  think  that  is  a 
hard  metamorphic,  and  that's  all  right.   I  guess — well,  a  geologist 
might  scold  me — I  refer  to  a  very  hard,  flinty  rock.   In  Hawaii 


Adams:     everything  is  lava.   The  Rocky  Mountains  is  largely  rolling  country 
and  of  sedimentary  rock.   It's  extremely  dangerous  to  climb  on. 
You're  climbing  up  what  amounts  to  a  rock  pile  that  just  slides 
under  you.  Well,  the  top  of  Rogers  Peak  in  Yosemite  Park  is 
something  like  that.   In  fact,  one  day  we  got  up  to  within  two 
hundred  feet  of  the  summit,  and  it  was  just  too  dangerous. 

Teiser:    The  Grand  Canyon — 
Adams:     That's  all  sedimentary. 

Teiser:    I  think  I  read  somewhere  that  when  you  first  saw  it  you  were  kind 
of  unimpressed. 

Adams:     Well,  it's  a  totally  different  experience,  you  see.  You  get  into 
the  granite  gorge  in  the  bottom  of  the  Grand  Canyon.   But 
practically  all  of  the  Southwest  is  layer  after  layer  after  layer 
of  sedimentary  and  colorful  rock  which  has  been  elevated. 

I'm  conscious  of  the  fact  that  there  are  tremendous  mountain 
ranges  all  over  the  world.   I've  seen  thousands  of  photographs. 
And  I'm  convinced  that  the  Sierra  is  unique  in  structure.   At 
least  the  Sierra  seems  to  be  the  most  livable  range.   I  mean,  most 
of  the  other  mountains  have  terrible  climates. 

Alaska  weather  can  be  excruciating!  For  instance,  I  spent 
twenty-five  days  in  the  Glacier  Bay  area  in  1948.  There  were  only 
five  clear  days  the  whole  time.   I  had  six  fine  days  at  Mount 
McKinley  in  1947,  which  was  absolutely  unusual  if  you  saw  the 
mountain  for  that  long  a  time.   The  Himalayas  must  be  terrible — 
sudden  disastrous  weather  conditions.   And  the  Alps — a  storm  can 
come  up  within  half  an  hour.   A  sudden  shift  of  air,  and  then  you 
have  some  serious  condition.   I  don't  know  about  the  Caucasus — 
they're  probably  fairly  tough  too,  the  way  they  look.  Much  of  the 
Rockies  and  the  Tetons  are  beautiful,  but  there's  nothing  that 
has  the  particular  intimacy  of  the  Sierra.  Which  I  don't  think 
of  as  much  as  mountains  as  natural  sculpture. 

Teiser:    And  the  vegetation? 

Adams:     The  vegetation's  extraordinary,  but  we  don't  have  these  rock  and 
ice  challenges  like  they  do  on  the  great  Alpine  peaks.  Thousands 
of  feet  of  ice  and  snow. 

And  the  Cascades  are  very  beautiful,  and  have  a  great  rise 
above  base,  but  they  have  terrible  weather  problems.   The  north 
slope  of  Mount  Rainier  has  a  wonderful  forest.   But  there's  just 
something  about  the  Sierra  that  is  extraordinary.   We're  intimately 
connected  with  it,  but  I  think  it's  probably  the  most  subtle  and  in 
exhaustible  mountain  range.   It  certainly  is  infested  with  more 
people  than  any  other  equivalent  area  now. 


Teiser:    Is  it?  More  than  Yellowstone  even? 
Adams:     Well,  Yellowstone  isn't  a  mountain  range. 
Teiser:    That's  right. 

Adams:     There  are  a  few  small  ranges  in  it,  like  the  Ibex  Peak  area. 

Glacier  Park  is  quite  beautiful,  but  again,  it's  of  sedimentary, 
stratified  rock. 

[End  Tape  11,  Side  1] 
[Begin  Tape  11,  Side  2] 

Adams:     I  must  say  for  the  record  that  I've  traveled  very  little.   I've 

been  in  the  Tetons  and  in  the  southern  Rockies,  and  a  little  of  the 
Sangre  de  Cristo,  very  little  in  the  San  Juan  Range.   Just  one 
excursion  into  the  Uintas  near  Salt  Lake.   And  in  the  White 
Mountains,  which  are  east  of  the  Sierra.   And  then  a  little  in  the 
Southern  California  Sierras,  which  are  rather  dreadful.  I  mean, 
barren.   And  in  the  Sierra  Nevada— and  Cascades. 

Teiser:    British  Columbia? 

Adams:     Yes,  British  Columbia,  Robson  and  Tonquin  in  Jasper,  the  Rockies. 

And  then  in  Alaska.  But  never  climbing  mountains.   I  never  climbed 
anything  in  Alaska. 


Teiser:    You  were  in  Alaska  in  the  forties — 
Adams:     Two  trips,  1947  and  1948. 
Teiser:    How  did  you  happen  to  go  there? 

Adams:     Part  of  the  national  park  project.   Glacier  Bay  National  Monument, 
and  Mount  McKinley  National  Park. 

Oh  yes,  my  greatest  experience  of  all,  I  guess,  was  flying 
from  Ketchikan  over  the  coast  range  at  Sunset.   We  came  up  to 
Juneau,  leaving  Ketchikan  at  10:30  p.m. 

We  left  in  the  Fish  and  Wildlife  plane.   We  got  off  at  four 
in  the  morning,  my  son  Mike*  and  I.  (He  was  just  a  kid.)   The 
governor  had  arranged  for  us  to  go  on  the  first  flight  of  the  Fish 
and  Wildlife  plane,  which  was  the  survey  flight  to  see  if  a  lot  of 

*Michael  Adams. 


Adams:     fishermen  in  these  bays  and  inlets  were  really  behaving.   And  this 
was  a  Grumman  Amphibian.   It  was  the  first  time  Mike  had  ever  been 
in  a  plane.   And  the  takeoff,  with  the  two  big  motors  right  over 
head,  is  extremely  noisy,  and  Mike — maybe  that  started  him  out  on 
his  flying  career — his  eyes  nearly  popped  out  of  his  head. 

We  took  off  from  Juneau  and  went  over,  within  a  few  hundred 
feet  of  the  mountain  range  to  the  east,  looked  down  and  could  see 
bear  and  other  game  in  the  meadows.  Well,  it  got  very  rough  and 
the  wind  gusty,  and  we  kept  on  making  landings  in  all  these  little 
sounds  and  bays  and  taxiing  up  to  people  in  boats  and  asking  for 
their  fishing  licenses.   This  is  the  first  day  of  the  season;  did 
they  have  it?  And  when  they  didn't  have  it  they  got  a  citation. 
Then  we'd  take  off  for  more  victims. 

Starting  at  four  in  the  morning,  remember  the  sun  was  quite 
high.   So  we  got  all  the  way  down  to  Ketchikan  about  two  in  the 
afternoon.   Had  lunch,  and  then  the  crew  disappeared  for  two  or 
three  hours  on  business.   As  we  landed  at  Ketchikan,  which  was  the 
first  time  we  landed  on  the  ground,  the  pilot  discovered  that  the 
maintenance  man  had  forgotten  to  put  any  hydraulic  fluid  in  the 
left  wheel  plunger.   Now,  if  you've  been  in  a  Grumman,  there's 
only  about  two  or  three  feet  distance  between  the  ground  and  the 
fuselage,   and  these  little  wheels  come  down  without  much  space  to 

Our  pilot  was  extremely  good,  and  as  soon  as  he  landed  he  knew 
something  was  wrong,  so  he  gunned  the  plane  up,  and  he  said,  "Will 
you  all  get  over  on  the  right  side  and  keep  your  weight  on  that 
side?  I  have  plunger  trouble,  and  we'll  make  a  landing  on  one 
wheel,"  which  we  did.   And  finally  came  down,  and  the  pontoons  on 
the  wings  on  the  right  side  bounced.  Then  he  tried  to  get  it  fixed 
there  and  couldn't;  they  didn't  have  the  right  equipment  to  get  the 
fluid  into  the  cylinder.   So  we  had  to  take  off  on  one  wheel,  and  we 
all  had  to  stay  over  on  the  right  side.   I  really  was  a  little 
worried  there,  because  at  a  high  speed  you  can  get  a  ground  loop. 
But  we  took  off;  it  was  very  late  in  the  day — ten  o'clock.  We  flew 
up  the  coast  range  at  evening — sunset,  right  along  the  crest.   It 
was  just  like  the  Sierra  during  the  Ice  Age.   You'd  see  things  like 
Half  Dome  emerging  from  the  ice  and  many  beautiful  peaks  and  the 
incredible  color  of  sunset  and  all  these  big  glaciers,  you  know, 
flowing  down  to  the  sea. 

We  landed  at  Juneau  at  about  11:30  p.m.   That  was  really  a 

I  had  another  flight  with  an  exploration  party.   This  was  the 
supply  plane,  and  these  people  were  surveying  and  traveling  all 
around  some  of  these  very  high  peaks  of  the  coast  range.   The 
function  of  this  plane  was  to  drop  supplies  at  certain  locations. 


Adams:     The  explorers  had  put  out  a  red-orange  cloth  on  the  snow.   You'd 
see  this  little  speck.   Then  we'd  fly  over  and  drop  the  load  of 

I  was  in  one  of  the  compartments  with  a  big  sliding  floor  over 
it,  roped  in,  trying  to  get  pictures.  We  went  around  these  big 
peaks,  and  all  of  a  sudden  it  grayed  over. 

When  you're  in  snow  country  and  the  sky  goes  gray,  you  don't 
know  whether  you're  at  six  hundred  feet  or  six  feet  or  six  thousand'. 
In  such  conditions  the  rule  is  to  get  out  as  quick  as  you  can. 

The  same  thing  happens  in  very  still  water.   If  the  amphibian 
plane  comes  down  in  still  water,  you  can't  tell  how  far  up  you  are. 
We  had  to  throw  wads  of  newspaper  around  in  Glacier  Bay  a  couple  of 
times,  to  know  what  the  elevation  was. 

Teiser:    To  make  the  water  ripple? 

Adams:     No,  to  give  an  object  that  you  can  focus  on.   In  that  case,  they 

put  the  nose  of  the  plane  up  and  just  drift  in,  and  the  tail  of  the 
plane  hits  first  and  you  hear  a  hissing  sound.   But  you  can't  tell 
much.   You're  going  too  fast  to  see  anything  if  your  paper  goes  by. 

So  that  was  quite  a  flight.   And  then  we  had  several  flights 
into  Glacier  Bay  and  several  places  where  we  had  to  go  up  and  down 
and  taxi  on  the  water  and  see  if  there  was  no  ice.   Because  a 
relatively  small  piece  of  ice  can  do  an  awful  lot  of  damage  to  the 
plane's  fuselage. 

But  flying  in  Alaska  is  just  like  taking  a  taxi.   There's  no 
other  way.   Well,  I  suppose  there  is,  but  to  walk  in  the  tundra 
and  the  wet  stuff  or  go  by  boat — oh,  terrific!   It's  a  long  way. 

Aerial  Photography 


Adams : 


Have  you  done  much  aerial  photography? 

Well,  no,  I  can't  say  much.   I've  done  some,  and  the  two  things  I 
did  in  Fiat  Lux  were  the  rice  fields  in  the  northern  Sacramento 
Valley  and  the  freeway  in  Los  Angeles.   I'm  very  happy  about  those; 
they're  very  good. 

You  must  have  been  low  over  the  freeway. 


Adams:     I  was,  illegally,  two  thousand  feet  down,  and  we  were  flying  with  a 
good  pilot,  and  when  1  told  him  what  I  wanted,  he  said,  "Well, 
these  regulations;  okay  if  they  don't  watch  you  too  closely."  The 
police  helicopter  passed  under  us  about  150  feet  below,  enough  to 
rock  the  plane,  and  he  said,  "Well  there's  no  point  in  immediately 
going  up  now.   They've  got  me  if  they're  going  to  get  me,  so  just 
go  ahead  and  do  this  job." 

So  we  were  going  right  over  the  crowded  freeway.   I  kept 
thinking,  "A  single-engine  plane!"   If  that  motor  had  conked  out, 
where  would  we  have  landed?  I  was  very  glad  to  get  back  to  Santa 
Monica.   He  never  got  a  citation.  [Laughter] 

Teiser:    Do  you  use  ordinary  equipment  or  aerial — ? 

Adams:     I  have  Louise  Boyd's  Fairchild  aerial  camera,  which  she  used  in 
Greenland.   She  used  it  mostly  for  five  by  seven  stills  on  the 
ground.  With  a  complete  set  of  magnificent  filters  (optical-flat 
filters).   But  now  with  cameras  like  the  Hasselblad,  and  the 
beautiful  lenses  and  filters  and  a  little  high-wing  plane,  you  can 
do  awfully  well.   Of  course  now,  photogrammetry  surveying  and  really 
accurate  mapping  stuff — that  requires  very  precise  equipment  and 
materials.   The  slit  photography  is  terrific.   There's  electronic 
sensors  that  pick  up  patterns  of  objects,  a  difference  of  light  and 
shade  on  the  ground,  compute  them,  and  establish  the  speed  of  the 
plane,  and  that  controls  the  speed  of  the  film  moving  by  the  slit. 
And  at  sixty  thousand  feet  you  can  see  gravel  between  railroad  ties. 
But  that  takes  special  ultra-thin  emulsions  and  extreme  precision  of 

I  can't  call  myself  an  aerial  photographer  at  all.   I  think  I 
would  like  it,  but  you  see,  when  you're  working  that  way  you  have 
to  have  a  high-wing  plane  and  you  usually  take  the  door  off.   And 
you  have  to  keep  the  camera  out  of  the  slip  stream.   The  novices 
would  go  up  with,  say,  something  like  a  Speed  Graphic,  and  they'd 
just  get  so  excited  they'd  lean  out,  and  the  slip  stream  hits  the 
camera  and  WOW — away  goes  the  bellows!  [Laughter]   But  in  a  certain 
space  you  don't  feel  the  air  at  all,  you  see.   But  if  you  put  your 
hand  out  too  far  you  may  break  your  wrist,  even  at  ordinary  speeds. 

Ever  put  your  hand  out  driving  a  car  on  the  highway  on  a  hot 
day?  Well,  that's  nothing,  but  if  you  were  going  150  miles  per 
hour  and  more,  you  can  break  your  arm. 

Teiser:    Do  you  know  the  photographer  who's  been  taking  aerial  pictures  of 
the  Bay  Area?  He  lives  in  the  East  Bay. 

Adams:     Well,  there's  a  Sunder land. 
Teiser:    Yes,  Clyde  Sunder land. 


Adams:     He  is  a  very  factual,  an  extremely  competent  record  photographer. 
The  greatest  aerial  artist  is  Bill  Garnett.  Nobody  can  touch 
Garnett.   He  doesn't  do  the  ordinary  kind  of  work,  you  see. 
Sunderland  is  a  person  that  will  make  you  a  completely  accurate 
aerial  survey  or  photograph.   Then  there's  a  man  named  Bob  [Robert] 
Campbell  who  has  done  some  perfectly  beautiful  things  of  salt  flats 
and  other  subjects.   Creative  photography  in  the  air  is  a  terribly 
important  phase  of  the  medium. 

In  fact,  Bill  Garnett  is  somebody  who  is  worthy  of  an 
autobiographic  approach,  because  there's  nobody  who  can  touch  him 
anywhere.   There's  never  been  any  aerial  pictures  made  that  are  as 
beautiful  and  as  convincing.  What  he  does  with  the  natural  forms! 
He  pilots  his  own  plane.  He's  a  very  fine  flyer. 

You  see,  when  I'm  photographing,  I'm  sitting  with  the  pilot, 
and  I'll  say,  "Now,  I  think  it's  coming!  Now,  you  turn  a  little 
to  the  left  and  then  bank."  Well,  if  he's  sympathetic,  he  knows. 
But  you  know  you  don't  drive  a  plane  like  an  automobile.   By  the 
time  you  say  those  things  you're  quite  a  little  ways  off.   So 
getting  a  few  pictures  may  mean  a  four-hour  flight.   The  pilot 
would  bank,  but  you  wouldn't  get  it  right.   And  then  he'd  go  a 
little  further  back,  bank  again,  and  you  were  too  close! 

Now  Bill  Garnett  can  sit  in  there  and  he  can  control  the  plane 
with  his  knees  and  make  his  photographs.   Because,  under  good 
conditions,  the  plane  can  drift  and  float  along — if  you're  a  good 
enough  pilot  to  pull  it  out  of  a  spin,  etc. 

The  plane  becomes  part  of  the  creative  instrument,  and  that's 
the  important  thing  about  Bill.   In  all  my  experience,  and  I've 
seen  thousands  of  pictures,  there's  nobody  that  can  come  anywhere 
near  him  in  the  aesthetic  command  of  his  subject. 

Teiser:    Does  he  work  in  black  and  white? 

Adams:     Yes,  and  in  color.   Beautiful  stuff.   Lives  up  in  Napa;  Congress 

Valley  Road.   Teaches  design  at  the  University  of  California.   Doing 
a  wonderful  job.   I'd  really  recommend  him  as  somebody  to  be 

There  are  some  other  aerial  photographers,  but  for  some  reason 
or  other  they  don't  "click;"  I  guess  it's  a  matter  of  anticipation, 
because  things  happen  pretty  fast.  Garnett  has  a  picture  of  an 
estuary  that  looks  just  like  the  branching  of  a  tree.  A  most 
beautiful  thing.   My  friend  [David  H.]  McAlpin  has  got  one.   It's  a 
print  about  twenty-four  by  thirty-six  inches — all  black  and  white, 
on  a  black  block.   Something  like  that  monument  in  2001!   And  all  it 
is  is  just  these  lines,  and  the  estuary,  the  light  shining  on  the 




water,  just  like  a  great  branching  tree.   It  was  an  absolutely 
honest  photograph;  there's  no  retouching.   And  then  he  did  the 
one  of  the  birds  flying  against  the  water.   It's  in  [This  Is]  The 
American  Earth.  And  the  great  picture  of  Los  Angeles — that 
terrifying  perspective. 

Oh  yes.   In  the  same  book. 

But  I  can't  begin  to  tell  you  how  great  I  think  he  is. 
one  of  the  great  living  artists . 

I  think  he's 

But  you  can't  count  me  as  an  aerial  photographer  at  all.   I've 
written  a  little  chapter  on  some  of  the  technical  elements,  which 
are  very  simple.   I  think  the  technical  point  is  very  simple  to 
manage,  but  the  aesthetic — getting  the  moment  and  the  point  of 
view. .. .You're  moving  at  a  fairly  high  speed  and  the  closer  you 
are  to  the  object,  the  shorter  the  exposure  must  be.   You  have  to 
use  filters  to  cut  your  blue  atmospheric  haze.  You  have  to  use 
rather  high  speed  film,  with  a  four  times  filter,  and  you  have  to 
develop  for  more  than  normal  contrast  because  contrast  lessens  as 
you  go  higher.   You  can  get  poor  image  quality  in  black  and  white, 
and  lots  of  grain. 

Now,  in  color  you  don't  have  high  speeds,  but  the  aerial 
lenses,  the  lenses  that  are  corrected  for  infinity,  work  best  at 
very  large  apertures — say  up  to  f/2  or  2.8 — and  that  permits  you 
to  make  short-exposure  photographs.   I  have  this  new  Hasselblad 
with  a  100  millimeter  lens,  which  is  corrected  for  extreme 
definition.  Al  Weber  uses  it,  and  he  said  there's  nothing  like  it 
at  all.   Use  the  lens  wide  open,  at  f/4,  and  it's  absolutely 
diamond  sharp;  the  lens  is  designed  for  infinity  function.   There's 
no  focussing.   Everything  has  to  be  very  accurate  at  infinity.   But 
if  you  use  a  monochromatic  filter,  like  a  red,  green,  or  blue, 
you'll  get  an  extremely  sharp  image,  with  single-component  lenses 
which  are  not  corrected  for  chromatic  aberration. 

I  have  a  picture  taken  in  Tuolumne  Meadows  of  a  skier  coming 
down  Lembert  Dome;  it's  done  on  orthochromatic  film  with  a  Graphic 
camera  and  a  Kodak  Zeiss  Tessar  lens.   It  is  incredibly  sharp. 
When  I  tried  to  use  that  lens  on  panchromatic  film  it  was  terrible, 
because  it  wasn't  corrected  in  the  red  area  of  the  spectrum.   In 
other  words,  it  focussed  the  reds  at  a  different  plane,  so  every 
thing  was  fuzzy,  you  see.   So  with  panchromatic  film  I'd  have  to 
use  with  it  a  minus-red  filter,  keeping  the  transmission 
orthochromatic  (blue  and  green),  and  I'd  get  a  very  sharp  image. 

There's  all  these  little  things  that  a  lot  of  people  don't 


and  the  Sit 

Teiser:    This  is  our  copy  of  Yosemite  and  the  Sierra  Nevada  that,  you  see, 
has  been  well  used.   Would  you  go  over  it  with  us? 

Adams:     Yes.   [Looking  at  book]  Well,  what  I  did  with  this  book  was  to 
consider  the  whole  Sierra  Nevada  system.  But  the  fact  is  that 
when  we  think  about  our  boundaries  of  the  national  parks,  they 
don't  have  any  reality  in  nature.  You  know,  the  system  is:  here's 
the  ocean,  and  the  rivers  go  back  into  the  mountains.   So  the 
pictures  are  in  order  of  John  Muir's  experience — he  came  in  to  San 
Francisco  from  the  sea.   This  first  one  is  taken  before  the  Bridge 
was  built — 1932  or  '33.*  And  that's  one  of  the  worst  reproductions 
ever  made  of  "The  Golden  Gate." 

And  the  second  one  is  a  foothill  in  the  coast  range,  not  too 
far  from  here.   ["In  the  Mount  Diablo  Range,  near  Pacheco  Pass"] 
It's  not  near  Pacheco  Pass,  that's  a  mistake.   It's  about  fifty 
miles  south,  but  it's  in  the  same  country. 

And  then,  here's  the  great  San  Joaquin  Valley,  with  these 
storm  clouds  ["Rain  Clouds  Over  the  San  Joaquin  Valley"].   And  John 
Muir  went  through  that  when  it  was  a  garden  of  wild  flowers. 

Teiser:    Did  you  just  happen  upon  that? 

Adams:     We  were  driving,  and  I  suddenly  saw  it;  I  get  out  and  make  a 

photograph.   This  is  a  very  rich  image,  but  these  are,  might  I  say, 
lousy  reproductions  I   The  Land  of  Little  Rain  is  much  better. 

But  you  see,  here,  I've  seen  the  Golden  Gate,  now  I'm  crossing 
the  coast  range,  then  into  the  San  Joaquin  Valley,  then  into  the 
foothills  of  the  Sierra.   And  these  statements  [quotations  printed 
on  the  pages  opposite  the  photographs]  of  course  are  from  Muir. 
And  this  ["Slate  Outcroppings ,  Sierra  Foothills"]  is  on  the  way  to 
Yosemite.  He  probably  passed  this  way  with  his  sheep.  And  here  are 
sheep  ["Flock  of  Sheep,  Sierra  Foothills"].  This  happens  to  be  a 
little  further  north;  it  may  be  fifty  miles  north  of  Yosemite,  but 
it's — you  know — exactly  the  same  kind  of  country.   And  this  again 
["Dead  Oak  Tree,  Sierra  Foothills,  Above  Snelling"]  is  very  typical 
of  the  country  near  Hornitos,  above  Snelling. 

*It  is  dated  1932  in  the  book. 


Adams:     Then  the  first  view  of  Yosemite;  this  is  taken  from  a  point  about 
a  thousand  feet  west  of  the  tunnel,  in  a  thunderstorm  ["Yosemite 

And  then  you  come  into  the  detail  of  the  valley,  in  autumn 
["Cathedral  Rocks,  Autumn  Tree,  Yosemite  Valley"],  and  the  Merced 
River  cascades  ["River  Cascade,  Yosemite  Valley"].   And  a  very 
tranquil  scene,  of  which  I  have  several  variations  ["Late  Autumn 
Evening,  Merced  Canyon  West  of  Ribbon  Creek,  Below  Yosemite  Valley"]. 
This  isn't  the  best  one.   Down  in  the  Merced  Canyon  in  autumn.  All 
these  are  supposed  to  glow,  you  know,  showing  separate  leaves  and 

And  "El  Capitan;"  "Three  Brothers;"  "Cascade  Fall;"  floor  of 
the  valley  ["On  the  Floor  of  Yosemite  Valley"].   The  lower  valley 
in  winter  ["Winter,  Yosemite  Valley"],  a  horrible  reproduction;  just 
unbelievably  bad. 

Teiser:    How  does  the  original  differ  from  that? 

Adams:     Well,  the  original  is  a  very  rich,  subtle  photograph,  with  all  the 
whites  separated.  All  this  snow  gleams.  All  this  snow  white  is 
different  from  the  clouds.  This  is  just  one  of  the  worst  repro 
ductions  you  can  imagine. 

"Nevada  Fall"  is  fair,  but  perfectly  flat  light.   Even  in  the 
print  it's  very  difficult  to  get  water  texture,  because  it's 
absolutely  "flat."  And  you  see  the  rainbow — it's  40°  in  angle  to 
the  sun,  so  the  shadow  of  your  head  would  be  down  about  here.   And 
I  have  to  tell  you  about  an  experience — something  that  has  to  be 
seen,  because  it's  hard  to  describe.  But,  if  you  put  your  left 
thumb  to  your  nose  and  make  a  gesture  which  is  considered  rather 
vulgar,  then  take  the  thumb  of  the  right  hand  and  put  it  to  the 
little  finger  of  the  left  and  stretch  it  at  right  angles  to  your 
left  hand,  it  will  describe  a  40°  arc.  Now,  if  your  hands  are 
small  or  big,  as  long  as  they're  the  same  size,  it  doesn't  make 
any  difference.   But  you  can  find  out  where  a  rainbow  is  going  to 
be.   Because  if  you  point  this  finger  at  the  shadow  of  your  head, 
here  is  the  rainbow  area  at  40°  plus  or  minus.  [Laughter] 

Well,  we  had  an  experience  when  I  was  doing  that  one  time  at 
Bridalveil  Falls,  all  alone.   And  I  thought,  "I  have  two  or  three 
hours  to  wait."  I  could  see  that,  because  it  would  take  quite  a 
time  to  get  the  rainbow  anywhere  near  the  falls.   I  was  describing 
the  arc  (I  think  it's  42.3°,  something  like  that.   I'm  not  that 
accurate).   I  turned  around,  and  here  are  two  elderly  ladies 
looking  at  me  in  amazement.   And  I  said,  "I'm  just  trying  to  find  a 
rainbow."  Whereupon  they  stepped  back  two  or  three  paces.   I  said, 
"No,  really.   I'll  give  you  the  technique."  So  they  both  came  over. 
And  I  said,  "Now  you  see  the  shadow  of  your  head.   Now  you  put  your 


Adams:     finger  up  here,  right  along  the  eye,  and  your  little  finger  is  right 
on  the  shadow  of  your  head,  and  now  do  this,  and  right  where  the 
little  finger  is,  is  the  arc  of  the  rainbow."  Well,  that  was 
interesting.  They  were  doing  it.  Then  we  turned  around,  and  a 
whole  busload  of  people  had  arrived,  and  they  were  all  looking  at 
us  with  their  mouths  open,  you  know,  and  I  said  to  them,  "We're 
just  trying  to  find  rainbows,"  whereupon  they  all  got  back  in  the 
bus  and  went  off.  [Laughter]  That's  a  true  story;  it  was  one  of 
the  funniest  things. 

Well,  number  seventeen  ["Crags  on  the  South  Wall,  Yosemite 
Valley"]  is  just  crags  on  the  south  side  of  Yosemite  Valley.  This 
is  Glacier  Point.  Then  the  Mariposa  Grove  in  winter.  More  Yosemite 
in  the  spring  ["Yosemite  Fall,  Orchard  in  Blossom"].  Back  to 
Yosemite  in  winter  ["North  Dome,  Winter"],  with  a  detail  ["Winter 
Forest"];  sunset  clouds  ["Storm  Clouds"]. 

I  guess  we  decided  on  sequence  on  an  aesthetic  basis.   Dogwood 
["Dogwood  Blossoms"];  top  of  Yosemite  Fall  ["Yosemite  Fall"].   These 
are  all  Yosemite,  and  it  goes  on  for  quite  a  little  while  until  you 
begin  to  get  in  the  High  Sierra — 

V.  Adams:   [Comes  in]   This  is  Liliane  De  Cock. 

Adams:     She's  worked  with  me  more  than  nine  years,  you  know.   She  married 
Douglas  Morgan,  my  publisher.   She's  doing  a  wonderful  job.   She's 
been  working  on  my  monograph. 

[Back  to  book]  Well,  "Merced  River  Below  Merced  Lake," 
different  forests,  Half  Dome  in  a  storm.  Then  there's  just  a  few 
of  the  High  Sierra,  which  we  feel,  if  we  do  it  again,  must  be  in 
better  balance. 

Teiser:    You'd  put  more  of  the  High  Sierra  in? 

Adams:     I  think  I  would.  Lyell  Fork  of  the  Merced.  Tenaya  Lake  again; 

Big  Trees,  Merced  Lake — I  look  at  it  now  and  I  don't  see  why  I  made 
this  particular  sequence. 

That's  the  most  beautiful  juniper  I  guess  there  is,  up  in 
Triple  Peak  Canyon  ["Juniper,  Upper  Merced  Canyon"].  Nobody  ever 
sees  it.   I'd  like  to  go  up  again.  Tuolumne  Meadows,  and  then  it 
goes  on  into  higher  country.  Now  it  goes  over  the  Tuolumne  Pass, 
which  is  to  the  south,  and  Merced  Canyon.  This  is  typical  ["Grove 
of  Lodgepole  Pine"]. 

Here  comes  "Banner  Peak  and  Thousand  Island  Lake,"  a  hideous 
reproduction  again!  And  Mono  Lake  on  the  east  side.  Then  we  go 
way  down  south,  you  see.   Mount  Williamson  on  the  east  side.   Moro 
Rock  in  Sequoia. 


Telser:  How  did  that  book  get  started?  Did  the  publishers  ask  you  for  it? 

Adams:  Yes.   Well,  it  was  done  with  Hough ton  Mifflin — 

Teiser:  There's  a  review  of  it  here  from  the  San  Francisco  Chronicle . 

Adams:  Oh,  I  didn't  see  that.  Let  me  see. 

Teiser:    Joseph  Henry  Jackson  wrote  it.   I  think  he  must  have  reviewed  all 
your  work. 

Adams:     Yes,  he  was  very  good  to  me. 

Incidentally,  you  see  how  this  clipping  yellows.  That's 
because  of  the  sulphur  content  of  the  pulp  paper.   [After  reading 
it]  Yes,  that's  a  nice  review.  Can  you  make  me  a  copy  of  that 
some  time,  because  I  really  don't  think  I  have  one. 

Teiser:    Sure. 

Adams:     Well,  I  think  the  books  in  the  main  have  been  successful,  but  it 

wasn't  until  considerably  later  years  when  we  really  began  to  think 
of  fine  reproductions.  That's  when  the  "My  Camera"  series  came, 
My  Camera  in  Yosemite  Valley,  then  My  Camera  in  Point  Lobos  by 
Edward  Weston,  then  My  Camera  in  the  National  Parks.   These  were 
done  by  the  H.S.  Crocker  Company — beautiful  press  work,  and  the 
engravings  were  done  by  Walter  Mann,  with  Mr.  Raymond  Peterson  in 
charge.   Now,  I  think  we've  mentioned  this  before,  but  these  were 
really  milestones,  because  I  still  think  they're  the  best  letter 
press  engravings  ever  made. 

But  letterpress  is  now  passe  and  hardly  anybody  knows  how  to 
use  it,  and  the  two-plate  offset  is  far  superior  as  far  as  tone 
control.   So  these  books,  if  they're  republished,  would  be  done  in 
offset.   By  somebody  of  George  Waters 's  quality. 

Teiser:    Do  various  people  do  press  work  for  George  Waters? 

Adams:     No,  he  is  a  producer.   In  other  words,  he  makes  the  plates  and  does 
the  actual  printing.  Now,  we  did  a  big  advertising  campaign  for  the 
Wolverine  people  [Wolverine  World  Wide  Inc.],  and  he  made  negatives 
for  them. 

Teiser:    Oh  yes.   I  sent  in  a  dollar  for  a  poster-size  reproduction  of  one. 

Adams:     Wolverine  had  four  thousand  orders  on  that  first  advertisement — 

extremely  satisfying,  you  know.  Waters  didn't  do  that.  He  did  the 
catalogue.  (I  have  to  give  you  one  of  the  catalogues.)  He  did  the 
plates  for  that,  but  they  had  to  be  printed  in  the  East.  Very 


Adams:     complicated.   He  did  the  negatives  from  the  prints.   Then  the 
negatives  go  off  and  are  "separated"  and  printed  by  whatever 
printer  does  the  job.  This  one  was  printed  in  Michigan.  Then 
Waters  made  the  negatives  for  the  advertisement,  which  they  would 
take  and  enlarge  to  any  size  they  want.   So  he  was  trying  to 
capture  my  photograph — the  quality — which  he  could  do  better  than 
a  person  who  didn't  understand  it.  But  the  reproduction  in  [the 
advertisement  in]  Life  and  so  on  was  lousy  anyway,  so  it  really 
doesn't  make  much  difference,  you  know. 

And  those  plates  go  out  as  paper  matrices,  usually,  and  of 
course,  Life  is  printed  in  quite  a  few  places  simultaneously.  And 
you  know,  when  you  get  Time  and  Life  out  here,  you  get  advertise 
ments  relating  to  the  West  Coast,  and  if  you're  in  the  Midwest,  you 
get  advertisements  relating  to  the  Midwest,  and  so  on  in  the  East 
and  Europe. 

It's  a  very  complicated  thing.  The  pattern  is  set  up  and 
there's  so  many  pages  of  ads,  which  are  made  up  in  the  particular 
area,  which  fit  into  the  main  plates  which  come  from  the  main 
editorial  office. 

Teiser:    I  think  the  reproduction  that  I  saw  was  in  the  Examiner  Sunday 
gravure  section  recently. 

Adams:     Oh,  was  it  there? 

Teiser:    And  I  thought  it  came  out  quite  well. 

Adams:  I've  only  seen  the  one  in  Life.  But  they  spent  a  fantastic  amount 
of  money  on  these  advertising  campaigns.  I  guess  that  one  page  in 
Life  was  probably  $45,000,  just  for  that  issue. 

Teiser:    But  what  a  wonderful  way  to  advertise! 

Adams:     They're  very  good.  And  then  that  little  column  off  to  one  side. 
We're  hoping  we  can  continue. 

Yosemite  Photography  Workshops 

Teiser:    Back  to  Yosemite — do  you  want  to  start  now  or  do  you  want  to  leave 
this  for  tomorrow  or  the  next  day?  We'd  like  to  ask  you  about  the 
history  of  the  workshops — when  they  started  and  how  they've  gone, 
and  so  forth;  who's  been  involved. 

Adams:      [Somewhat  tentatively]   I  think  I  can  do  that. 


Teiser:    The  brochure  says  this  is  the  twenty-sixth  year,  which  would  make  it 

Adams:     Well,  no;  before  the  war  [World  War  II],  I  think,  several  times  we 
had  what  was  called  the  "U.S.  Camera,  Ansel  Adams,  Yosemite 
Photographic  Forum."  Dorothea  Lange  and  Edward  Weston,  Rex  Hardy 
and  myself.  We  had  quite  a  group. 

Teiser:          What's  happened  to  Rex  Hardy? 

Adams:     He  was  here  the  other  day.  Lives  in  England.   Is  going  to  move 
back  here. 

We  had  a  big  enrollment.  And  then  Hitler  invaded  something, 
and  that  put  on  a  war  scare,  so  the  enrollment  was  cut  down  by  half; 
yet  it  was  satisfactory.   Nothing  further  happened  until  after  the 
war.   Then  we  revised  it,  which  I  would  say  was  in — when  was  the 
war  over? 

Harroun:   Forty- five. 

Adams:     I  think  we  had  the  first  one  in  '46.   It's  been  a  continuous 

enterprise  since,  plus  several  others  in  the  year.  Now  we  have 
this  June  one  coming,  and  Al  Weber  has  a  print  one  in  August,  and  I 
have  another  one  in  the  end  of  September.  But  I'm  going  to  have  to 
back  out  of  it  soon  and  let  other  people  do  it  more  and  more.  But 
the  main  June  workshop  is  very  closely  associated  with  me. 

Liliane  [De  Cock]  came  out  all  the  way  from  Scarsdale;  she's 
going  to  teach.  And  Barbara  Morgan's  coming — her  mother-in-law 
and  a  great  photographer. 

Teiser:    Originally,  then,  it  was  cosponsored  by  U.S.  Camera? 

Adams:     The  first  one  was  U.S.  Camera,  with  a  very  elaborate  folder.  They 
had,  you  know,  a  magazine. 

Teiser:    Did  you  have  a  big  turnout  then? 

Adams:     Well,  we  had  sixty-plus  enrolled.   Then,  as  I  said,  the  war  had 
started  in  Europe,  and  it  cut  down  enrollment  to  less  than  half. 
Eastern  people  were  too  scared.  Because  it  was  pretty  precarious 
when  Hitler  started  invading  Sudetenland  and  Austria,  etc. 

Teiser:    Did  Edward  Weston  start  teaching  again  after  the  war,  then? 

Adams:     No. 

Teiser:    Was  he  a  good  teacher  for  groups  of  that  sort? 


Adams:     No.  He  was  a  very  bad  teacher,  but  a  wonderful  person  for  an 

example.   You  see,  he  was  like  Brett  [Weston],  his  son.   Now,  Brett 
doesn't  impart  any  detailed  information.   He  has  no  technical 
knowledge;  he  just  has  his  own  extraordinary  intuitive  way.  He 
goes  out  with  a  camera  and  he  sees  things  the  way  he  sees  them,  and 
lets  people  look  through  the  ground  glass  of  the  big  camera — it's 
quite  a  thrilling  experience.   But  technically — he  prides  himself 
on  not  being  able  to  add  five  and  four,  you  know.  Many  artists  do 
that.   But  he's  perfectly  capable  of  doing  it. 

Teiser:    Did  Dorothea  Lange  have  the  same  sort  of  individual  approach? 

Adams:     No,  her  approach  was  "seeing"  and  people — the  social,  human  meaning 
of  photographs.  Extremely  important.  Barbara  Morgan — I  don't 
suggest  her  as  a  teacher  in  the  technical  sense,  but  she  inspires 
people;  she  comments  on  their  work.   She  speaks  of  feeling;  she 
talks  about  the  intangibles.  And  those  people  are  just  as  important 
[as  those  who  discuss  technical  matters.] 

Teiser:    What  did  Rex  Hardy  do? 

Adams:     Well,  Rex  was  sort  of  a  journalist  type. 

Teiser:    Did  he  teach  classes,  or  did  he  work  with  individuals? 

Adams:     Well,  you  see,  we  don't  work  that  way.   We  have  groups,  seminars — 
we  play  it  by  ear.  And  the  most  important  thing  is  to  be  in  the 
field.   A  person  has  a  problem,  so  you  help  him  out  with  it.   Then 
the  instructor  gives  some  talks.  He  can  talk  about  artificial 
light,  and  the  small  camera,  or  anything  in  his  field.  This  year, 
we  have  quite  a  variety  of  very  good  people.  We  have  Dorr  Bothwell, 
the  painter.   She's  very  stimulating. 

Teiser:  Has  she  been  participating  for  many  years? 

Adams :  Yes ,  quite  a  few  years . 

Teiser:  Your  assistant,  Gerry  Sharpe — ? 

Adams:  Yes,  unfortunately  for  us  all,  she  died. 

Teiser:  Could  you  speak  a  little  about  her? 

Adams:     Gerry  was  an  extremely  gifted  gal.   She  had  psychological  troubles 
in  adjusting  the  creative  world  to  the  real  world.  But  she  was  an 
extraordinary,  fine  photographer.   She  had  a  little  more  technical 
knowledge  than  people  give  her  credit  for  having.   She  knew.  Her 
negatives  and  pictures  were  always  pretty  much  "there."  There 
wasn't  a  lot  of  trial  and  error  in  her  work.  And  she  had  this  very 


Adams:     important,  rather  impressive  emotional  feeling  about  things.  Her 
greatest  ability  was  to  sit  down  with  an  individual  and  talk  about 
their  work.  And  they'd  go  away  just  simply  inspired,  because  she 
could  really  dig  into  them,  if  you  want  to  use  the  term.   "Why  did 
you  do  this?"  she'd  say.   "Why  did  you  see  it  this  way?"  You  know, 
talk  back  and  forth,  instead  of  being  didactic.   She  got  a 
Guggenheim,  and  she  went  to  Ghana,  and  was  starting  in  on  really  a 
very  important  program,  and  made  some  beautiful  photographs,  and 
then  was  involved  in  a  tragic  accident.  A  doctor  was  driving  out 
to  some  village  in  a  Volkswagen,  and  they  hit  a  truck,  and  she 
nearly  lost  her  leg,  and  was  laid  up  in  a  hospital  there  for  weeks. 
Then  she  came  home  and  almost  died;  tropical  injuries  are  bad. 
That  sort  of  knocked  everything  out  of  her.   I  mean,  she  never 
really  regained  the  impulse  to  create.  Finally,  she  had  a  job  in 
the  Winterthur  Museum  [Wilmington,  Delaware],  but  I  think  the 
bottle  got  the  best  of  her  and  she  just  couldn't  stand  being 
restricted  to  a  job.   She  was  born  in  New  Jersey,  but  came  west  with 
the  idea  of  spending  her  life  photographing  early  Americana.  Her 
disability  really  got  her  down,  and  then  the  decline  started,  and 
she  just  kept  drinking,  and  that  was  the  end  of  it. 

It's  typical  of  very  gifted  people  who  can't  relate  to  the 
realities  of  life.  Her  photographs  are  quite  remarkable.  We  were 
very  fond  of  her,  and  her  passing  was  a  great  loss. 

Teiser:    You've  had  some  very  talented  people — 

Adams:     Well,  Liliane  is  just  marvelous.   She  has  a  Guggenheim  fellowship 

now,  you  know.  Right  after  she  was  married  she  got  that.  That  was 
too  much.  Her  husband  figured  it  out  that  she'd  worked  for  me  nine 
years,  three  months,  two  weeks  and  three  days.   She  knew  where 
everything  was.   But  she's  quite  a  creative  person — easily  one  of 
the  best  of  the  younger  people. 

And  Don  Worth  worked  for  me  for  several  years.  He's  a  very 
fine  photographer.  He  teaches  art  at  San  Francisco  State  University. 

Teiser:    I  remember  a  picture  of  his  of  your  lighted  studio  window,  from 

Adams:     I  happen  to  have  a  very  fine  personal  collection  of  photographs. 

Never  realized  what  I  had.  But  the  Lands  very  kindly  gave  us  some 
Clarence  Kennedy  portfolios.  That  in  itself  is  very  important.  And 
then  I  have  all  the  portfolios  of  Weston,  Minor  White,  Don  Worth, 
Dick  Julian.  Then  all  kinds  of  individual  prints.   [Charles] 
Sheeler  et  al.  And  I  have  early  Brady  images — my  prints,  though. 
I  have  daguerreotypes.   I  don't  know  what  to  do  with  them. 


Adams:     I  should  get  an  interne,  a  young  person  from  a  college  who's 
studying  photography,  and  have  him  come  and  analyze  them  and 
catalogue  them  and  document  them,  because  you  know,  a  thing  like 
that  is  an  awful  job.  Then  the  next  step  is  the  evaluation;  then 
the  next  step  is  what  to  do  with  them. 

Teiser:    I  trust  they're  all  dated.' 

Adams:     Not  too  many.   I'm  not  the  only  one  that  fails  on  datingl  [Laughter] 

Well,  let's  see — the  workshops — at  first  we  had  only  the  June 
one.  Then  we  decided  that  when  we  put  in  the  new  darkroom. .. .The 
government  gave  us  the  renewed  fifteen-year  contract,  and  they 
always  require  improvements.  We  have  spent  quite  a  little  money 
improving  the  studio  and  putting  in  a  darkroom,  which  is  a  very 
good  darkroom,  especially  as  a  teaching  and  demonstration  one. 

There's  no  reason  why  we  couldn't  have  workshops  and  groups 
the  whole  year,  but  I  myself  have  to  withdraw  from  that  because  it's 
just  too  much.   To  get  good  photographers  to  come  up  and  conduct 
workshops  is  our  present  plan.  All  I  can  say  is  I'm  the  general 
director  and  I'm  not  going  to  let  some  inferior  operation  go  on. 
Al  Weber,  who  lives  here,  is  one  of  our  staff  members,  and  he's  a 
very  good  photographer.  He's  having  a  workshop  in  August,  and 
we're  going  to  develop  him  more.  And  we're  getting  in  the  fall 
workshops.  We're  getting  a  great  variety  of  photographers,  like 
Wynn  Bullock,  and  Jerry  Uelsman,  and  top  names  to  come. 

And  then  the  Friends  of  Photography — of  course  that's  another 
subject.  Maybe  you'd  better  put  that  down  as  a  separate  subject, 
because  that  ties  into  the  theory  of  the  f/64;  really  it's  the 
latter-day  f/64  group,  but  with  a  modern  slant,  as  far  as  I'm 

So  let  me  see — what  would  be  logical?  Oh,  I  might  say  that  I 
have  given  workshops  in  the  Museum  of  Modern  Art,  and  the  museum 
in  Memphis,  and  Rochester,  and  many  other  places.  Workshops  last 
sometimes  a  week,  sometimes  they're  just  two  days.   I  hate  the  term 
"workshop,"  but  there's  no  other  term  in  the  language  that  seems  to 
cover  exactly  what  that  means.  Because  a  seminar's  something  where 
a  whole  group  of  people  get  together  and  exchange  ideas.   In  the 
Friends  of  Photography  we  say  we're  having  an  "event,"  but  that's 
very  ambiguous  too. 

Teiser:    The  word  has  become  so  closely  associated  with  these  workshops, 
you'd  have  a  hard  time  changing  it  now,  I  should  think. 

Adams:     Yes — there  are  so  many  hundreds  of  workshops  given,  and  there's 

such  a  fantastic  interest  in  photography.   It's  a  whole  new  world. 
It's  really  a  tremendous  thing,  and  relates  to  thousands  of  people. 


Adams:     Of  course,  the  basic  idea  is  that  photography  is  a  language;  you 
have  the  aesthetic  approach,  and  the  documentary,  and  the 
journalistic,  and  the  scientific,  and  many  other  categories.  We 
use  the  English  language  to  depict  the  world  in  the  written  word. 
We  have  also  the  photographic  language  to  express  the  visual 
world.   And  the  audio-visual  world — well,  all  colleges,  schools, 
institutions,  companies,  all  have  what  is  usually  called  the 
audio-visual  department.    It's  a  fantastic  growth.   I  mean  it's 
an  industry,  something  that  represents  untold  millions  of  dollars 
and  hundreds  of  thousands  of  people  working,  making  slides, 
documentary  records,  etc. 

I'm  not  plugging  anybody,  but  the  Bell  &  Howell  people  have 
just  come  out  with  this  new  copy  machine,  which  happens  to  cost 
seven  hundred  and  something  dollars,  but  it  is  fantastic  in  the 
sense  that  it  makes  copies  of  anything  in  just  a  few  seconds.   It 
makes  transparencies  for  what  they  call  "overhead  projection  work." 
You  can  make  a  transparency,  and  in  about  two  or  three  minutes  have 
a  hundred  or  two  hundred  ditto  copies,  which  you  can  put  in  the 
hands  of  the  audience  while  you're  projecting  images  on  the  screen. 
It's  one  of  the  great,  I  think,  steps  forward,  because  it's  not 
litho  reproduction,  but  it  is  a  quick  means  of  communicating  type 
written  pages,  copies,  letters,  even  pictures  in  a  crude  sense. 
Many  advanced  duplicating  systems  are  being  developed. 

[End  Tape  11,  Side  2] 

Skill  in  Music  and  Photography 

[Interview  X  —  3  June  1972] 
[Begin  Tape  12,  Side  1] 

Teiser:    ...then  your  career  in  music  and  your  career  in  photography  have 
been  related? 

Adams:     Yes.   Well,  I  think  it  was  Wilenski  who  said  that  all  art  is  the 
expression  of  the  same  thing.  But  actually,  I  don't  necessarily 
subscribe  to — what  would  you  call  it? — a  two-dimensional,  mystical 
relationship  because  when  we  start  reading  qualities  of  one  art 
into  another,  we  get  in  trouble.   It's  like  when  we  try  to  talk 
about  pictures,  or  when  people  give  literary  titles  to  music,  like 
the  Moonlight  Sonata. 

I  think  I  mentioned  once  that  Huneker  criticism  of  the  B  flat 
minor  Sonata  of  Chopin,  which  contains  the  Funeral  March  (the 
"Marche  Funebre") ,  which  is  really  the  stylistic  interpretation  in 
the  Adagio,  but  which  is  used  as  a  funeral  march.   It  was  not  Chopin's 
intention  that  it  be  played  with  a  brass  band  and  used  in  a  procession 




Adams : 





Hunneker  accepted  that  Romantic  interpretation,  and  then  said  the 
last  movement,  which  is  Presto  Furioso,  I  think,  is  the  "night 
winds  rushing  over  the  graves."  Well,  that  kind  of  relationship 
to  me  is  completely  nauseating.   I  mean  [laughs]  it's  a  concept  to 
which  I  can't  possibly  relate.  What  happened  is  that  the  expressive 
capacities  of  the  music  were  undoubtedly  damaged  by  literary 
interpretation.   But  the  best  thing,  the  thing  that  probably  saved 
me,  was  the  strict  discipline  involved  in  music  that  automatically 
carried  over  into  the  photography.  There  was  no  such  thing  as 
"schools"  in  photography  at  that  time.   It  was  a  very  sloppy  art, 
and  only  a  very  few  people  gave  it  any  critical  or  technical 
dignity.  There  was  no  training  in  photography  to  speak  of. 

So  I  could  have  been  a  real  "sloppy  Joe"  photographically,  if 
it  hadn't  been  for  the  discipline  which  is  absolutely  required  for 

When  you  first  started  taking  photographs  and  doing  your  own 
printing,  did  you  print  and  print  and  print  from  the  same  negative 
to  teach  yourself  how  to  do  it? 

Oh  yes.  Well,  in  the  first  period,  it  was  empirical — trial  and 
error,  over  and  over  and  over,  until  I  got  some  results.  Then 
later  on,  when  I  established  the  technical  basis  of  the  Zone 
System,  then  I  knew  much  better  what  I  was  doing.  But  I  still 
have  to  print  quite  a  number  of  times  to  get  the  expressive  result, 
because  you  can't  put  that  on  a  slide  rule.  The  fact  is  that  it  is 
so  completely  subtle,  you  can't  really  physically  describe  it. 

You  said  yesterday  that  Mr.  Mazzeo  was  a  good  photographer  and  not 
a  very  good  painter. 

Well,  I'll  put  it  this  way:  his  prints  in  no  way  come  up  to  what 
he  sees.  Now,  this  "seeing"  is  used  in  quotes.  As  Edward  Weston. 
would  say,  the  "seeing"  is  not  adequate,  or  the  "seeing"  is  great. 
As  I've  mentioned  before,  the  internal  event  and  the  external  event 
are  so  terribly  important.  And  with  people  like  Mazzeo  being 
interested  in  birds  and  things — the  external  event  is  really  what 
interests  him.  He  does  pictures  because  the  subject  interests  him, 
and  he  conveys  the  subject.  But  he  doesn't  have  the  design  sense 
that  Brett  Weston  has  or  Edward  Weston  had,  for  whom  the  photograph 
becomes  an  object  and  not  just  a  record  of  a  subject.  It  becomes 
something  in  itself.  But  Mazzeo  is  a  great  musician! I 

Are  there  people  who  can  make  a  good  negative  but  can't  print  it, 
and  people  who  can  print  but  not  make  a  good  negative? 

Well,  put  it  this  way:   there  are  many  people  who  could  make 
absolutely  adequate  negatives  with  no  expressive  intention.   And  it 
comes  down  to  a  complicated  thing:  your  visualization  is  in  relation 


Adams:     to  the  final  Image,  and  it  usually  works  out  that  the  person  doesn't 
make  a  good  negative  because  he's  failed  in  some  way  to  visualize. 
Then  in  some  way,  by  hook  or  crook,  he  does  the  best  he  can  in  the 
darkroom,  you  see. 

I  have  many  very  bad  negatives  that  I  can  take  to  the  darkroom 
and  really  do  a  lot  to  bring  up  some  expressive  quality.   But  I  can 
have  an  absolutely  perfect  negative,  and  if  I  didn't  have  the 
feeling  or  the  sensitivity,  simply  nothing  would  happen.   In  many 
cases  I've  taken  other  people's  photographs,  like  some  of  the  early 
photographs,  and  have  made  prints  which  were,  frankly,  much  better 
than  anything  they  made  technically,  because  I  have  better  materials 
and  controls  than  they  had. 

When  I  say  better,  I  mean  the  print  had  more  impact.   And  I 
know  that  Bill  Webb  has  done  the  same  thing  with  the  [Adam  Clark] 
Vroman  negatives.  He's  made  really  wonderful  images;  much  better 
images  than  Vroman  ever  made.  And  in  my  case,  the  two  examples  are 
the  San  Francisco  fire  and  the  Chinatown  street  of  Arnold  Genthe. 
Genthe's  prints  are  notoriously  weak  and  fuzzy  and  (quote)  "artistic" 
(unquote).  And  it's  the  same  thing  with  his  records  of  the  fire. 
They're  pretty  tough;  some  of  those  negatives  are  very,  very  bad. 

Teiser:    How  about  O'Sullivan?  Did  you  improve — ? 

Adams:     I  never  worked  with  any  O'Sullivan  negative.   I  certainly  improved 
on  the  Bradys,  but  I  never  printed  any  O'Sullivan  or  Jackson.   I 
printed  some  Wittick,  Brady  [pause] — well,  when  we  say  Brady,  we 
don't  know  who — it  could  be  any  one  of  his  photographers. 

You  see,  Brady  was  a  promoter,  not  a  photographer.  He  had  a 
business  called  Matthew  Brady,  and  he  employed  photographers.  And 
on  the  envelopes  of  all  these  negatives  that  were  put  in  the 
National  Archives  were  written  the  name  of  the  photographer.  But 
he  never  gave  them  credit  in  the  published  work.   Only  more  recent 
historians  have  done  that. 

But  Roy  Stryker,  when  he  took  on  the  farm  resettlement  project — 
you  know,  the  big  "dust  bowl"  job — always  gave  the  photographers 
leading  credit.   It  would  be  a  photograph  of  such  and  such  "by 
Walker  Evans,  Farm  Security  Administration  Historical  Project,  Roy 
Stryker,  director."  That  was  the  way  it  would  be  documented — the 
photographer  always  got  the  leading  line. 

Teiser:    I'm  sorry,  I  took  you  away  from — 
Adams:     The  music — 

Teiser:    You  were  telling  us  yesterday,  after  we  were  taping,  about  the  kind 
of  pianist  you  were  and  are,  and  how  your  technique  differs  from — 


Adams:     Well,  probably  that  sounded  a  little  too  pompous.   The  fact  remains 
that  I  have  a  very  light  hand.   I  have  an  ideal  violin  hand.   And 
my  very  good  friend,  Cedric  Wright,  who  was  a  violinist,  had  an 
ideal  piano  hand — we  should  have  grafted  them.  [Laughs] 

In  any  event ,  my  technique  was  based  largely  on  the  dynamic 
finger  action.   I  think  it  would  be  called  the  Leschetizky  method. 
Now  that  goes  back  to  the  turn  of  the  century,  and  the  fundamental 
technical  pattern  is  that  you  lift,  strike,  and  relax.  You 
practice  hours:  you  lift,  strike,  and  relax,  until  it  becomes 
absolutely  free.   If  you  lift,  strike,  and  hold  down,  you 
immediately  tighten;  then  you  have  no  flexibility. 

Then  the  same  thing  would  apply  to  the  wrist  for  certain 
things.   Now,  there's  a  difference  in  the  relaxing — it  would  be 
legato  (because  the  key  is  held  down),  or  it  would  be  a  portamento, 
or  it  would  be  a  staccato.  Then  to  reinforce  the  sound,  I  would 
bring  in  some  weight.   But,  there  are  whole  schools  of  weight 
playing  in  which  you  sort  of  "pour  in"  your  weight.  You  see  people 
using  shoulder  or  arm,  and  that  almost  invariably  results  in  less 
brilliance  of  tone.  The  ideal  situation  is  that  you  balance  them 
out — your  weight  and  your  dynamics — depending  on  your  hand  structure. 

Now,  Victor  Babin,  the  late  pianist,  he  was  really  marvelous. 
He  had  very  large  hands.  And  he  had  complete  control — magnificent 
finger  action  and  complete  weight  control.  And  he  could  produce 
the  most  incredible  sounds! 

Harold  Bauer,  when  he  was  playing  a  concerto  with  an  orchestra, 
could  actually  imitate  the  quality  of  an  instrument.   If  a  flute 
or  string  passage  was  to  come,  say  with  a  Schumann  concerto,  his 
piano  would  take  on  that  quality.   Now  it's  all  illusionary, 
because  it  really  can't  imitate;  it  still  is  a  percussion  instrument. 
But  it  isn't  the  way  you  hit  one  key;  it's  the  time,  the  dynamics, 
in  which  you  hit  the  next  key. 

You  see,  there's  no  real  way  in  which  you  can  change  the  sound 
of  the  piano  at  all.  Now,  the  harpsichord  is  different;  you  strike 
it  and  you  can  vibrate,  and  you  can  get  a  little  pulse  in  the  sound. 
But  the  piano — the  hammer  strikes  the  key  and  retracts.  So  there's 
no  control  but  volume  and  the  relationship  to  the  next  note. 
Intuitively,  it  probably  could  be  explained.   I  think  even  [H.L.F. 
von]  Helmholtz  touched  on  that.  He  explained  that  when  you  strike 
a  note — and  this  depends  not  only  on  the  fact  that  it's  a  piano  or 
an  organ,  but  say  that  it's  a  piano,  upright,  square,  or  grand — 
when  you  strike  that  note,  you  have  produced  the  fundamental  tone, 
and  then  you  have  a  whole  series  of  harmonics ,  and  those  harmonics 
are  not  necessarily  the  same  that  you  get  with  the  open  strings. 
But  they're  there.   They're  even  within  the  part  of  the  strings  that 


Adams:  are  dampened.  There's  a  very  subtle  resolution.  And  then  you 
anticipate  this  resolution,  and  you  play  the  next  note;  and  in 
anticipating  it,  you  also  have  to  bring  in  this  psychophysical  law. 

So  a  beautiful  touch  is  something  that  makes  the  sounds  seem  to 
flow  with  absolute  completion.  You  don't  worry  about  them  at  all. 
And  a  poor  touch — we  all  know  what  that  is.   It  drives  you  up  the 
wall.  Because  here's  people  playing  precisely — everything  that's 
written,  playing  everything  in  time,  in  unison — but  they  have  not 
got  this  sense  of  the  connecting  sequence,  which  can't  be  called 
just  simply  "legato."  It  is  legato,  but  that's  too  simple  a  term. 

And  in  photography,  when  you're  photographing  actions — I  think 
I  mentioned  Cartier-Bresson  as  anticipatory.  There's  a  girl  who's 
walking  toward  us,  toward  the  camera,  and  I  anticipate  her;  I  want 
her  at  a  certain  place.   If  I  wait  until  she's  there,  she's  caught 
beyond!  So  I  have  to  see  this  possibility  and  feel  all  the 
relationships.  There  is  about  one-tenth  second  delay  between 
"seeing"  and  operating  the  shutter. 

But  now  getting  to  the  music-photography  relationship.   I  don't 
see  anything  except  certain  standards  of  discipline,  which  are 
obvious,  and  then  standards  of  taste  or  aesthetics.   It's  impossible 
for  me  to  think  of  people  spending  their  lives  in  music  and  not 
having  good  taste  in  the  other  arts.   But  that  is  not  the  case, 
because  I  have  been  in  music  studios — in  New  York,  some  of  my  good 
friends ,  very  fine  musicians — with  the  worst  possible  furniture  and 
the  worst  possible  things  on  the  wall  you  could  imagine.  I  mean, 
absolutely  no  sensitivity  for  the  visual. 

So  there's  nothing  cut  and  dried  in  this  relationship! 
Teiser:    What  about  the  very  simple  thing  of  manual  dexterity? 

Adams:     Finger  dexterity  is  something  which  is  very  important — well,  unless 
you're  crippled,  as  I  partially  am  with  arthritis  now — nobody  has 
any  trouble  with  a  camera.   It's  rather  a  gross  instrument  in  a  way. 
Some  people  are  very  rough  with  cameras  and  mistreat  a  delicate 
instrument.  That's  something  else.   But  I  can  still  set  the  shutter 
with  accuracy,  and  I  can  still  operate  the  camera.   I  may  have 
difficulty  lifting  it  onto  the  tripod.  The  dexterity  is  really 
partly  when  you're  developing  films  in  the  tray  that  you  get  a  very 
sensitive  feeling  of  the  finger  in  handling  these  things.  But  I 
don't  think  being  a  pianist  or  not  would  have  any  effect  on  that. 

Now,  if  you  were  a  watchmaker  or  putting  a  shutter  together  or 
something,  that's  another  world.  But  I  really  don't  think  dexterity 
in  general  is  so  important . 


The  Friends  of  Photography 

Teiser:    We  spoke  yesterday  about  the  Friends  of  Photography.  Do  you  want 
to  go  into  that  now? 

Adams:     Yes.  Well,  that's  a  continuation  of  my  attitude  towards  the  f/64 

group.   In  other  words,  not  exactly  the  same  motivation.   But,  there 
was  no  place,  anywhere  in  the  West,  where  a  group  of  creative  people 
got  together.  And  I  thought  about  it,  and  we  talked  about  it.  And 
one  day  Cole  Weston  came  out;  he  was  managing  the  Sunset  Center  [in 
Carmel].  He  said,  "Well,  if  you  want  to  do  something  in  photography, 
there's  a  space  available  for  a  gallery."  And  that  sort  of  triggered 
it  off,  and  I  got  ahold  of  Wynn  Bullock  and  Mazzeo  and  a  few  others. 
"Let's  do  something  about  this."   [Interruption] 

We  saw  the  space,  and  then  we  got  very  busy  and  raised  a 
little  money,  and  then  organized  the  Friends  of  Photography.   It 
was  a  pro  tern  committee  which  secured  the  place.  Our  lawyer  then 
drew  up  the  articles  of  incorporation,  which  we  signed,  and  this 
committee  then  became  secondary  to  the  fundamental  bylaws  and  the 
election  of  officers  and  so  on,  as  a  charitable,  tax-deductible 
institution.   So  we're  tax-deductible.   If  you  wish  to  give  us  ten 
thousand  dollars,  we'd  accept  it  with  the  greatest  of  joy,  and  you 
could  take  it  off  your  income  tax.   If  you  can  make  it  more,  why 
we'd  much  appreciate  it.  [Laughter] 

We've  had  phenomenal  success  with  shows;  we  haven't  any  money. 
We've  brought  some  beautiful  work  to  the  area — have  produced  publi 
cations  and  two  portfolios.   Bill  Turnage  came,  primarily  to  work 
for  me,  and  he  had  several  other  things  to  manage.  He  acted  as 
the  director  and  really  did  a  fantastic  job  in  waking  us  up — made 
a  lot  of  us  very  mad  because  he  told  the  truth.  You  know  that 
usually  happens.  He's  a  mover  and  a  shaker,  and  he  did  his  job  of 
organizing  and  telling  us  the  truth — analyzing  the  full  situation. 
And  then  on  Turnage 's  advice  we  appointed  Fred  Parker  as  the 
regular  executive  director.  He's  a  curator  and  a  museum  man  and  an 
expert  in  photography,  and  there  were  very,  very  few  trained 
curators,  art  historians,  or  gallery  persons  in  the  world  of 
photography  to  draw  upon.   That's  one  thing  that  we  now  have  to 

I  think  that  the  Princeton  center,  which  David  McAlpin  has  just 
initiated,  will  start  developing  such  people.  You  see,  it's  not 
necessary  for  them  to  be  photographers.  The  curator  of  painting  or 
the  museum  director  is  not  necessarily  a  painter.  But  we've  had 
few  of  these  for  photographers  to  call  on,  and  their  opinion  is 
usually  biased;  it  can't  be  anything  else.   I've  tried  it;  I've 
run  things.   But  it's  just  incredibly  hard  for  a  photographer  to  be 


Teiser:    What  is  the  center  that  McAlpin's  given? 

Adams:     The  Princeton  University  Art  Museum  photography  center.  He's 

founded  a  chair  of  photography.  Peter  Bunnell  is  running  it.  And 
it's  primarily  related  to  the  history  of  photography.  He  gave  one 
million  dollars,  which  it  costs  to  set  up  a  chair.  People  never 
think  about  a  million  dollars.  What  can  one  do  with  a  million? 
Well,  normally  you  have  to  put  it  in  securities,  and  out  of  that, 
you  get  50  percent — fifty  thousand  a  year. 

That's  an  irrevocable  trust,  and  that  pays  Bunnell's  salary 
and  the  space  charges,  and  operating  cost,  and  a  secretary.  You 
can't  do  very  much  with  fifty  thousand  a  year  in  a  big  institutional 
way.  But  you  can  train  people  who  come  and  work  through  Princeton 
in  the  various  departments.  Now,  of  course,  the  term  "museology" 
is  really  related  to  the  physical  care  or  the  restoration  or  the 
analysis  of  paintings  and  works  of  art.  A  curator  is  somebody  who 
has  an  art  historian's  knowledge  in  the  field,  you  see,  and  cares 
for  and  controls  the  prints  in  relation  to  this  knowledge.  The 
museum  director  is  somebody  who  just  says  what's  going  to  be  done. 
The  curator,  by  the  way,  usually  has  to  prepare  and  hang  the 

But  the  director — he  has  to  know  a  lot,  or  should  know  a  lot — 
but  he  also  has  the  administration  and  politics  and  finance  on  his 
neck,  you  see. 

Teiser:    And  your  director  of  the  Friends  is  up  to  all  those  things. 

Adams:     Well — we're  very  small.  He  was  curator  of  photography  at  the 

Pasadena  Museum.  Now  he  could  move  into  a  position  like  this  chair 
at  Princeton.   I  don't  think  he  would  like  it  too  much.  His  ideal 
would  be  the  curator  of  photography  in  some  big  institution,  say 
the  Metropolitan.  That  would  be  an  objective  goal.  But  here  he  is 
running  the  exhibits,  he's  running  the  workshops  and  the 
publications.   But  it's  all  subject  to  the  approval  of  committees 
on  the  board,  which  it  should  be  for  saving  his  own  neck.  We 
haven't  disagreed  yet.*  But  it's  very  important  for  the  trustees 
to  keep  control. 

Some  directors  will  say,  "Well,  I  don't  want  to  be  subject  to 
anybody.  I  want  to  run  the  whole  thing."  That's  one  of  the  worst 
things  you  could  let  anyone  do.  Because  why  not  share  your  mistakes 
[laughs] — psychologically  and  otherwise?  But  we've  had  a  very  good 
board.  Liliane  De  Cock  is  on  the  board,  for  example. 

Teiser:    Are  most  of  the  members  on  the  board  photographers? 

*We  did  later.  [A. A.] 


Adams:     Too  many.   We  were  practically  all  photographers  at  one  time.   Now 
we're  stretching  it  more,  because  again,  a  complete  board  of  just 
photographers  is  biased.   And  we  have  some  members  who  just  can't 
see  any  other  work  but  their  own.   I  mean  it's  very  difficult  for 
an  exhibitor  to  criticize  exhibits,  because  it  doesn't  look  like 
the  kind  of  photography  that  they  believe  in.  Well,  that's  not 
our  function.  And  Fred  Parker,  with  his  very  big  knowledge  of 
photography,  can  get  us  exhibits  of  the  photography  of  our  time. 
Now,  I  would  say  that  half  the  shows  that  we've  had  there  I  don't 
like,  from  the  personal  point  of  view.  But  I  have  no  right  to  pass 
that  judgment.   I  don't  like  Rubens,  and  I  don't  like  Picasso,  but 
I'm  very  fond  of  Rouault.   So  you  wouldn't  expect  me,  if  I  ran  a 
museum,  to  concentrate  on  Rouault.   I'd  have  to  admit  the  existence 
of  Picasso.   [Interruption] 

Well,  so  the  Friends  are  a  growing  institution,  and  of  course 

I  want  to  withdraw  when  it's  reasonable  to  do  so  and  concentrate 

on  my  own  work.   I  think  it's  terrible  for  people  to  stay  on  and  on 
and  on  and  on  in  any  institution. 

Teiser:    I  imagine  that  it  wouldn't  have  become  a  real  organization  without 
your  leadership ,  however — 

Adams:     Well,  I  think  probably  I'd  have  to  accept  that  fact.  Not  from  the 
point  of  view  of  conceit,  but  because  of  experience  with  the 
Museum  of  Modern  Art  and  many  other  things  of  its  type.  The  Sierra 
Club — thirty-four  years  on  the  board  there — I  learned  something 
about  management  at  the  board  level.'  And  then  I'm  very  well  known. 
So  you  put  all  these  things  together  on  a  purely  objective  level, 
and  of  course  I  would  be  useful  to  some  degree. 

Teiser:    What  is  the  geographical  area  of  this'  group?  Is  it  really  national? 

Adams:     We  want  to  make  it  national.   We've  had  exhibits  from  all  over.   One 
of  the  things  we  wanted  to  avoid  is  being  a  camera  club.   Camera 
clubs  are  really  social  clubs,  like  little  men's  chowder  and 
marching  societies  [laughter] — and  are  not  interested  in  photography 
as  an  advanced  art  but  more  as  a  hobby.   The  Photographic  Society 
of  America  represents  the  camera  club  and  hobbyist  and  practically 
nobody  else.   It's  another  world.   It's  a  very  difficult  thing  to 
explain,  but  you  just  go  and  look  at  a  photographic  salon  by  the 
pictorial  group  and  you  see  a  totally  different  thing  than  when  you 
see  a  serious,  creative,  dedicated  work. 

Teiser:    There's  a  man  in  San  Francisco  who  I  think  you  must  have  known,  who 
I  think  was  a  photography  club  man.  Francis  Brugiere — 

Adams:     Brugiere.  Well  now,  he  was  rather  unusual.  He  was  quite  an  artist. 
But  there  was  no  outlet  for  photographic  art,  so  he  did  function 
through  the  only  thing  that  existed  to  function  in  photography — the 


Adams:     camera  club.   But  he  did  many  things  with  light — photograms, 

reflections,  abstract  things  that  are  really  quite  extraordinary. 

But  I  don't  know  enough  about  him  to  give  you  any  authentic 
information.   It  would  be  like  Ann  Brigman,  you  see,  who  did  some 
remarkable  images  which  Stieglitz  liked.  But  the  only  place  she 
could  show  was  at  the  camera  clubs . 

Teiser:    I  rather  suspected  that  Brugiere  was  better  than  most. 
Adams:     Oh  yes,  he  was  very  much  ahead. 

Then,  I  forget  the  man  that  ran  Camera  Craft  for  so  long.  He 
was  a  nice  man,  but  boy I  He  had  what  you  call  "Kodak  taste."  He 
was  right  down  the  pictorial  line. 

The  Friends  are  a  going  organization,  we  hope.   I  think  we've 
accomplished  a  lot,  and  now  photography  is  becoming  a  very  big 
factor  in  the  art  world.   Scores,  even  hundreds  of  college  depart 
ments,  hundreds  of  workshops — some  are  bad,  some  are  good,  but  it's 
now  being  recognized. 

And  a  museum  will  have  a  photography  show.  Heretofore,  you'd 
have  Stieglitz  and  Strand  and  Weston — that  would  be  about  it.  Then 
[Eliot]  Porter  and  I  got  in,  and  some  of  the  Europeans — Cartier- 
Bresson,  Andre  Kertesz,  a  few  others,  but  it  still  was  always 
played  pretty  much  on  the  safe  side. 

Now  they're  really  showing  much  younger  people.  Liliane's 
had  some  fine  shows.   She's  got  one  coming  up  at  the  Amon  Carter 
Museum,  and  I  think  at  the  Art  Institute  in  Chicago — I'm  not  sure. 
She's  had  some  very  good  exhibits — at  this  level  of  an  artist,  which 
is  the  thing  that  we  have  to  maintain  in  photography.  It's  a  very 
difficult  point. 

You  see,  it's  up  to  the  photographer  to  maintain  his  work  at 
the  level  of  the  artist.  The  painter  and  the  sculptor  automatically 
assume  that  they  do.   "I'm  a  sculptor — I'm  in  the  fine  arts."  Of 
course  I  might  be  a  lousy  sculptor,  but  still,  I'm  automatically 
there.  A  photographer  never  has  quite  that  conviction.  That's  one 
of  the  reasons — the  insecurity — why  so  many  photographers  talk  so 
much.  You  know,  to  justify  their  own  work  and  try  to  mystically 
explain  the  inner  unmeanings. 

Teiser:    .1  know  the  Friends  of  Photography  is  not  like  the  Eastman  House, 
but — 

Adams:     The  Friends  of  The  Bancroft  Library  would  be  people  who'd  go  out  to 
raise  money  for  the  library.  Well,  we  might  have  the  "Friends  of 
the  Friends  of  Photography"  some  day.  It's  what  we  need.  [Laughter] 
But  there  are  friends  of  almost  anything — friends  of  the  sea  otter. 
It's  a  vague  term — it  means  supporters. 


Teiser:    Well,  do  I  remember  that  the  Eastman  House  group  has  published  and 
shown  exhibits  and  sent  exhibits  around — 

Adams:     It's  not  got  a  big  membership.   It  is  a  nonprofit  membership 

institution.   But  they  never  went  out  after  many  members.   They 
were  very  generous  to  their  members .   We  were  too  generous  in 
giving  each  of  ours  the  portfolios.  We  had  about  twelve  thousand 
dollars  tied  up  in  portfolios  that  haven't  sold  yet.   Every  member 
got  a  free  copy.   And  they're  beautifully  reproduced. 

But  you'll  always  find  that  there's  something  wrong  with 
whatever  you  do.   "Why  did  you  make  this  selection?"  "I  didn't 
think  that  picture  was  any  good."  And  the  next  person  will  say, 
"Well,  I  think  that's  one  of  the  best  things  in  it."  When  I  did  my 
Portfolio  V  it  was  extraordinary  because  there  were  two  or  three 
images  which  most  people  liked.   But  every  one  was  liked  by  a 
number  of  people.   And  that's  kind  of  lucky,  because  sometimes 
there'll  be  one  or  two  that  will  be  by-passed  entirely. 

Museums  and  Critics 

Teiser:    To  go  back  in  time — to  other  exhibits  of  photographs — in  1931  you 
had  an  exhibit  at  the  Smithsonian  Institution  called  "Pictorial 
Photographs  of  the  Sierra  Nevada  Mountains" — 

Adams:     Everything  is  wrong:   "pictorial"  is  wrong,  "Sierra  Nevada"  is 
wrong,  "Mountains"  is  wrong.  [Laughs]  We  all  use  that,  but 
Francis  Farquhar — oh,  he  used  to  go  wild  over  that. 

Teiser:    But  that  was  what  they  called  it. 

Adams:     Well,  that  was  just  like  the  name  they  gave  Parmelian  Prints ,  I 

Teiser:    Was  that  your  first  major  exhibit? 

Adams:     I  wouldn't  consider  the  Smithsonian  at  that  time  as  having  any 

status  as  an  exhibit  place.   They  showed  curiosities  and  scenes  and 
such  things,  but  I  don't  think  they  had  museum  status.   It  even 
doesn't  have  what  you'd  call  really  museum  status,  although  of  late 
it's  getting  there. 

Teiser:    How  did  they  happen  to  know  about  you? 

Adams:     Well,  word  of  mouth.   Francis  Farquhar,  somebody.   Bradford 

Washburn  of  course  had  shown  a  lot  of  his  Mount  McKinley  pictures. 
But  the  Smithsonian  has  always  related  more  or  less  to  science, 


Adams:     travel,  invention.  And  boy,  when  Beaumont  [Newhall]  and  I  went 

there,  they  had  their  exhibit  of  photographs  of  early  Fox  Talbots 
[photographs  by  William  Henry  Fox  Talbot]  up  in  the  top  floor 
under  the  skylight,  completely  unprotected.   And  these  things 
were  literally  fading.  And  I  blew  my  top.   I  said,  "Beaumont, 
can't  you  do  something  about  it?"  He  said,  "You  don't  understand 
the  museum  world.   I  could  no  more  go  down  there  and  criticize 
this  curator!"  He  said,  "You  could,"  you  see,  because  I  wasn't 
in  the  museum  world.   And  I  wrote  a  very  strong  letter,  first 
thing.   I  said,  "As  a  photographer,  subjecting  these  invaluable 
photographs,  some  of  the  most  important  things  ever  done — 
subjecting  them  to  this  unfiltered  light  is — well,  it's  incompre 
hensible."  There  were  other  people  who  were  upset  too.   They  did 
finally  cover  these  cases  with  a  yellow  glass  filter.  Still  it 
was  a  poor  job. 

So  then  I  went  to  Dearborn  to  see  the  Ford  collection  [at  the 
Henry  Ford  Museum]  of  [William  Henry]  Jackson  photographs.   We  were 
trying  to  get  something  for  the  "Brady  and  the  American  Frontier" 
exhibit.   They  had  fourteen  thousand  glass  plates  in  a  loft  of  one 
of  their  big  buildings,  and  the  temperature  was  about  110°. 
Fortunately,  it  was  dry.   But  collodion  won't  take  too  much 
temperature.  And  I  blew  my  top  there.  .  I  told  this  man,  I  said, 
"I  think  keeping  these  plates  here  is  absolutely  disastrous.   I'm 
no  chemist,  but  this  heat  is  such  a  hazard" — the  sun  beating  on  the 
roof.   He  said,  "I  think  we  know  what  we're  doing,  Mr.  Adams."  I 
said,  "Well,  I  guess  perhaps  you  don't.   I  would  say  this  could 
lead  to  a  most  serious  deterioration."  Well,  I  wrote  a  letter  to 
Henry  Ford  II  about  it.   But  you  see,  I'm  not  in  the  museum  world; 
I  was  clear.   I  could  do  this.   But  if  Beaumont  [Newhall]  had  done 
that,  he'd  have  been  immediately  blacklisted  in  the  profession. 
Because  you  never  criticize  another  curator — like  a  doctor,  you 
see.   A  doctor  can't  go  and  say  anything  negative  about  any  other 
doctor — unless  he  is  a  downright  fake.   But  even  then  you  have  to 
be  very  careful. 

And  when  one  doctor  criticizes  another,  it's  always  by 
innuendo.   They  say,  "Well,  some  people  will  go  to  anybody."  Never 
really  say  that  Dr.  Jones  is  an  impostor  I 

But  photographers — among  the  good  ones — as  soon  as  a  photogra 
pher  knows  another  one  is  sincere,  he  usually  is  very  supportive. 
But  he  also  can  get  hideously  jealous.   That  happens  in  music  too; 
I  suppose  all  the  arts.   I  know  some  very  unfortunate  high-level 
jealousy  among  some  of  the  very  top  people.   And  it's  purely 
psychological,  because  they  have  nothing  to  be  jealous  about. 

A  lot  of  people  are  jealous  of  me  because  of  my  apparent 
success  in  selling  prints.   I'm  not  conservative  in  spirit.  My 
work  is  fairly  "set" — you  know,  it's  me,  and  it  belongs  to  another 


Adams:     and  earlier  period.   The  criticism  I  get  quite  often  is  that — well, 
I'm  dead,  I'm  finished.   I've  had  people  tell  me  that  to  my  face. 
"Why  don't  you  go  and  retire.  You're  through;  you  haven't  done 
anything  new  for  years."  I  say,  "You're  perfectly  right.   But  I 
may."   [Laughter] 

It's  very  hard  to  judge  things  such  as  methods  of  photography 
or  any  art  at  its  own  level.   Another  thing  that's  been  very 
serious  in  the  museum  world  is  that  the  dealer  world  has  been  one 
of  the  extraordinary  merchandising  machines  of  the  times.   These 
people  like  Warhol  and  others  will  have  an  exhibit,  and  an  agent 
will  take  them  on.  Now,  the  agent  promotes  them,  and  within  a 
short  time  this  man  is  the  "greatest  artist  of  our  time."  And 
people  are  like  sheep.   They  get  a  page  in  Time.  You'll  see  very 
often  Newsweek  and  Time  will  have  the  same  story.   Now,  that  comes 
right  out  of  the  publicity  offices.   It's  all  very  well  engineered. 
And  they  like  to  come  out  at  the  same  time  because  one  doesn't  want 
to  follow  the  other. 

Then  I've  heard  a  museum  man  say,  "Veil,  I  was  considering 
Harry,  but  you  know,  he's  about  six  months  passe  now."  [Laughter] 
It's  the  truth.  And  I  said  to  one  curator,  "Well,  does  that  in  any 
way  influence  Harry's  quality?"  He  said,  "No,  but  he's  just  dead. 
He's  not  up  with  the  times,  he's  not  with  it."  Well,  in  six  months 
time,  you  know — 

Goya  is  still  with  it.  [Laughter]  And  El  Greco  is  still  with 
it.   And  I'd  say  that  the  early  period  of  Picasso  is  to  me 
extremely  moving.   And  I  never  can  accept  the  later  period.   I 
think  he  had  his  tongue  in  cheek  in  a  lot  of  it,  and  I  know  a  lot 
of  contemporary  art  which  is  far  more  abstract  and  far  out  than 
Picasso,  which  moves  me  deeply.   But  again,  not  being  a  museum  man, 
not  being  a  trained  art  historian,  I  have  no  right  to  say  that  as 
anything  more  than  a  strictly  personal  reaction. 

Some  say,  "I  don't  like  Joe,  and  I  think  Harry's  a  good  guy, 
and  what's  the  matter  with  Jim?"  It  has  nothing  to  do  with  the 
real  value  of  the  people  as  artists.   It's  just  their  own  reaction. 
And  the  critics!  We  are  trying  to  train  now  in  photography 
knowledgeable  critics ,  because  there  are  very  few  of  them — and 
many  are  needed.   A  painter  cannot  criticize  a  photograph. 

Teiser:    There's  Mrs.  Mann? 

Adams:     Oh  yes,  Marjorie  Mann.   Well,  she's  a  psychological  case.   She 

writes  sometimes  brilliantly,  but  she  has  just  decided  that  some 
thing's  wrong  in  photography  and  she's  going  to  set  it  right.   I 
would  say  that  Mann  is  inclined  to  be  rather  brutal  and  inconsiderate 
When  she's  writing  about  something  she  knows,  she's  fine,  but  she 
immediately  tied  onto  the  Friends  of  Photography  as  being  nothing 


Adams:     but  an  old  fogey  organization  perpetuating  the  West  Coast  school. 
Well,  she  came  to  the  first  opening.  We  told  her  what  we  were 
going  to  do.  And  immediately  she  decides  we  show  only  the  classics. 

Well,  then  she  hit  a  couple  of  other  shows  that  were  of 
somewhat  conservative  type,  and  she  missed  all  the  ones  that  were 
highly  contemporary  and  experimental.   I  think  she  missed  the 
platinum  show,  which  was  history,  and  she  missed  the — oh  gosh,  I 
just  can't  begin  to  tell  you.   So  she  has  a  total  misconception. 
Now,  her  influence  is  considerable.   So  before  Fred  Parker  knew 
about  us,  he  had  that  impression  through  her  writing.  And  then 
when  he  came  and  looked  at  the  series  of  exhibits  that  we  had,  he 
said,  "I  want  to  apologize  for  my  previous  opinion.  Why  didn't 
somebody  tell  me?" 

We  had  Van  Deren  Coke  class  work  from  the  University  of  New 
Mexico.   We  had  the  Institute  of  Design,  we  had  Todd  Walker — we 
went  all  over  the  map;  a  very  fine  cross  section  of  what's  going 
on  in  photography.  We  had  the  Visual  Dialogue  show,  with  photo 
sculpture — things  in  the  round  and  in  plastic.   So  one  of  our  big 
problems  is  to  show  to  the  world  that  we  have  a  very  catholic 

But  you  see  if  you  can  be  a  belligerant  critic,  if  you  can  be 
a  showoff,  if  you  can  make  everybody  feel  that  you're  right  out 
there  crusading — you  can  get  a  lot  of  attention. 

Her  [Mann's]  own  photographs  are  simply  terrible — the  weakest 
things.   I  think  she  never  should  photograph.  A  critic  should  be 
absolutely  objective.  Most  art  critics  are  not  painters — they've 
studied  art,  they're  art  historians.  Beaumont  is  a  superb  critic 
in  photography,  about  the  only  one  that  really  exists. 

Teiser:    Does  he  write  that  analytically? 

Adams:     Well,  I'm  trying  to  get  him  to  do  it,  but  Beaumont's  a  rather  mild, 
kindly  person,  and  he's  interested  in  the  history  of  photography, 
and  for  him  there's  no  difference  between  the  past  and  the  present. 
It's  a  continuous  flow.  He  can  pick  up  from  my  work  things  that 
happened  a  hundred  years  ago  and  vice  versa.   Not  that  we're 
imitating,  but  it's  just  a  broad  approach  to  the  world,  you  see. 

Now,  a  typical  happening  is — somebody  wrote  me  a  letter:   "How 
did  Stieglitz  get  these  rich  qualities?"  I  wrote  a  letter  back 
saying  as  best  I  could  that  the  chances  were  that  the  rich  qualities 
he  saw  were  a  psychological  effect  due  to  his  wonderful  sense  of 
values.  And  I  sent  that  letter  on  to  Beaumont,  and  he  was  able  to 
say,  well,  the  values  are  a  little  extreme  in  some  cases,  in  lantern 
slides,  for  example,  because  Stieglitz  intensified  them  with 
mercury.   But  mercury  isn't  permanent.   He  didn't  know  it  at  the 
time,  so  all  those  slides  are  gone. 


Adams:     I  have  some  intensified  in  mercury  and  chromium  that  have  gone  too! 
It  isn't  permanent.   It's  very  complex.  You  add  mercuric  salts  to 
the  silver,  and  the  result  is  a  kind  of  mutual  deterioration.   The 
negative  just  turns  a  ghastly  yellow,  and  I  don't  know  of  any  way 
to  get  it  back. 

Teiser:    I  was  impressed  that  someone  writing  so  seriously  in  a  popular 
photographic  magazine  would  get  as  much  space  as  Mrs.  Mann  has. 

Adams:     Well,  she  approached  it  as  a  profession. 

There's  [A.D.]  Coleman,  who  writes  for  the  New  York  Times,  and 
he  seems  pretty  erudite.   I  think  he's  been  pretty  good. 

Now,  Jacob  Deschin,  who  wrote  for  the  [New  York]  Times  first, 
is  a  very  nice  man,  but  he  really  knows  nothing  about  photography. 
He  really  started  writing  about  photo  products.  And  people  used  to 
look  at  that  column  like  we  look  at  Herb  Caen,  and  believe  it,  you 
know.   A  lot  of  people  never  enjoy  a  concert  until  they've  read 
the  paper  the  next  morning.  But  of  course  Deschin  wasn't  really 
in  that  critical  class  at  all. 

There's  a  very  interesting  story  about  Beaumont.   You  see, 
Nancy  [Newhall]  designed  my  big  show  in  San  Francisco  [the  1963 
exhibit  at  the  de  Young  Museum].  And  one  of  the  photographic 
magazines  asked  would  Beaumont  write  a  criticism  of  it.  And 
Beaumont,  being  a  professional  and  not  having  enough  money,  said, 
"Yes,  but  it  must  be  professional."  They  said,  "We'll  pay  your 
way  to  San  Francisco  as  an  honorarium."  Which  is  all  right.  He 
said,  "Now,  there  are  my  wife  and  one  of  my  close  friends  there 
who  could  do  it."  They  said,  "No,  no,  we  trust  you."  So  he  came 

Well,  Beaumont  wrote  a  perfectly  beautiful  analysis  of  the 
show  and  of  my  different  periods  of  work  and  was  very  objective. 
He  took  the  text  to  the  editor,  and  the  editor  said,  "Gee,  this  is 
pretty  good  writing,  but  can't  you  find  anything  wrong  with  it?" 
And  Beaumont  said,  "Well,  the  function  of  criticism  is  not  to  find 
something  wrong.   It's  to  interpret.   But,"  he  said,  "no,  I  can't 
find  anything  wrong  with  it.   There's  a  few  prints — quite  a  few 
prints  that  I  wouldn't  have  put  in  myself,  but  there's  nothing 
wrong  with  it  in  the  total  sense." 

But  then,  it  makes  people  feel  very  superior  to  have  somebody 
say,  "Well,  it's  obvious  that  Paul  Strand  has  done  some  very  bad 
things,"  or  "This  picture  doesn't  hold  a  candle  to  that" — you  know, 
some  needling  remarks.   It's  like  the  old  Roman  arena  and  the 
gladiators,  I  guess.  They  just  like  to  see  people  taken  apart. 
And  most  of  the  photographic  criticism  has  been  that  way. 


Adams:     The  art  criticism  has  been  much  better  because  the  critics  have 
been  much  more  erudite — and  the  same  with  music.   There  was  a 
famous  music  critic  at  the  Examiner  many,  many  years  ago.   Or 
maybe  it  was  the  Chronicle.   I  think  it  was  Rosenthal  who  played, 
and  after  the  intermission  the  manager  came  out  and  said  there  had 
been  a  mistake  in  the  program,  and  Mr.  Rosenthal  is  not  going  to 
play  this,  he's  going  to  play  this  and  this  and  this.   What  do 
you  think — the  next  morning  in  the  newspaper  here's  a  glowing  de 
scription  of  what  Mr.  Rosenthal  didn't  play.  And  the  critic  heard 
him.   I  saw  him  there.   Then  he  left  to  write  and  meet  the  deadline. 
He  maybe,  after  all,  had  heard  Rosenthal  do  the  "Fantasy"  of  Liszt, 
you  know,  or  the  "Don  Juan  Suite,"  or  whatever  was  on  the  program, 
so  he  just  wrote  about  them. 

Imagine  the  embarrassment  of  writing  a  critique  about  something 
that  wasn't  played.  [Laughs]  He  was  a  very  kindly  man,  and  he  was 
terribly  embarrassed.  The  next  week  he  wrote  a  letter  of  apology 
and  explained  why — that  he'd  heard  Rosenthal  many  times  and  knew 
how  he  would  perform.   But  still,  it  was  an  inexcusable  breach. 
But  everybody  thought  it  was  a  good  joke.  [Laughter] 

[End  Tape  12,  Side  1] 
[Begin  Tape  12,  Side  2] 

Teiser:    To  get  back  to  your  exhibits — the  one  you  would  perhaps  consider 
your  first  real  exhibit.   It  was  a  one-man  show  in  1932  at  the 
de  Young.  It  was  before  the  f/64  show. 

Adams:     I  think  that  would  be  fairly  important.   [Lloyd]  Rollins,  the 
director,  was  way  ahead  of  his  time;  he  did  a  great  service  to 
photography  in  the  fact  that  he  did  show  it.  He  showed  Weston,  he 
showed  Brett  [Weston],  and  he  showed  me,  and  he  showed  others,  and 
he  showed  f/64,  and  he  had  the  museum  trustees  down  on  him  for 
wasting  space  on  photographs. 

The  whole  Art  Association  in  San  Francisco  has  had  a  vendetta 
against  photography  as  long  as  I  can  remember.   They  resent  any 
space  [used  for  it]  because  to  them  photography  is  not  art.   And 
my  dearest  friends,  people  like  Colonel  [C.E.S.]  Wood  and  Sara 
Bard  Field,  would  take  me  aside:   "You  could  go  anywhere  in  music. 
Why  did  you  choose  photography?  The  camera  cannot  express  the 
human  soul." 

I  told  Stieglitz  that.   Stieglitz  said,  "Oh,  so?"   [Laughs] 
I  mean,  making  this  romantic  failure,  I  guess  you'd  call  it,  to  see 
what  you  saw  and  feel  it  was  just  as  spiritual  an  accomplishment  as 
what  a  painter  could  do.   But  to  them  (they  were  a  generation  before 
me,  you  see),  it  was  a  mechanical  process.  You  click  and  then  you 


Adams:     develop  and  then  you  print,  that's  it.   But  they  don't  realize  all 
the  magical  visualization  and  controls  that  go  into  it.   And  this 
is  terribly  important.   [Interruption] 

Teiser:    Your  show  at  the  de  Young,  then,  in  '32,  was  of  prints  that  you 
had  recently  made? 

Adams:     Yes,  most  of  the  early  better  things. 

You  see,  I  have  a  big  problem  now,  that  I'm  probably  the  most 
disorganized  photographer  that  ever  lived,  and  probably  the  one 
who  has  the  greatest  number  of  things  to  fight  with  and  combat,  in 
items  and  early  pictures.   And  for  my  show  in  San  Francisco  that's 
coming  up,  I  have  to  go  out  to  that  darkroom  and  I  have  to  start 
in  from  the  beginning. 

Proper  Disposition  of  Photographs 

Adams:     I  have  hundreds  of  prints,  and  twenty-five,  thirty  thousand 

negatives,  and  of  course  some  are  useless  and  some  are  of  purely 
historic  value.   I  should  take  my  early  pictures  of  Yosemite — 
negatives — and  give  them  to  some  historical  [organization],  like 
the  Yosemite  Natural  History  Association,  because  there's 
thousands  of  pictures  that  are  just  "Ridge  No.  3,"  "Peak  X,"  etc. 
Well,  they'd  take  them  and  look  at  them  over  a  period  of  forty  or 
fifty  years — watch  for  the  changes.  That's  very  important 

And  I've  had  a  little  struggle  over  what  to  do  in  relation  to 
The  Bancroft  [Library]  because — where  do  the  prints  go?  Well,  in 
fact  we're  having  a  discussion  with  some  good  friends  this  summer 
about  what's  going  to  happen  to  this  place. 

Teiser:    The  Bancroft  has  new  space  being  planned — 

Adams:     Well,  if  any  architect  at  all  knows  his  salt,  he  would  make  purely 
archival  conditions  for  collections.   But  the  point  is,  The 
Bancroft  is  historical  and  I  sent  up  all  the  Sierra  Club  papers — 
I  just  sent  up  all  kinds  of  things.  Now,  when  you  come  to  a 
photographic  collection  of  prints,  if  it's  purely  art  items  it 
should  go  to  a  different  place,  I  think — an  art  repository.   The 
Bancroft  have  a  lot  of  early  California  things,  but  that's  not 
necessarily  art. 

Now,  Edward  Weston's  pictures  were  given  to  the  library  at 
Santa  Cruz  by  a  friend,  anonymously.  He's  given  eight  hundred  of 
them,  and  this  could  be  the  nucleus  of  a  photographic  collection. 


Adams:     But  there  were  forty  prints  of  Edward  Weston  over  at  Monterey 

Peninsula  College,  and  nobody  recognized  what  they  had.   They  were 
in  drawers  without  slipsheets  on  them,  and  the  students  would  take 
them  out  and  prop  them  up  carelessly.   Finally  we  got  terribly  sore 
over  that  and  we  had  them  all  overmatted,  and  really — when  we  told 
them  they  were  worth  five  hundred  dollars  apiece  on  the  market, 
they  immediately  made  a  flip.   They  are  very  nice  people,  but  they 
were  absolutely  opaque  to  the  quality  of  these  prints. 

And  this  is  the  kind  of  thing  that  we  really  have  to  consider 
in  disposition  of  creative  work. 

Now,  the  pictures  I  have  of  Yosemite  and  of  the  California  of 
my  time,  and  so  on — they  are  history.   If  they're  fine  photographs, 
that's  good  too.   But  I  have  many  photographs  that  have  nothing  to 
do  with  the  subjects  of  history.  How  is  The  Bancroft  going  to 
handle  it?   It  belongs  in  a  different  category.   It  belongs  with  a 
photography  collection  in  a  photography  department.   And  once  you 
give  a  thing,  you  have  no  control  over  it. 

The  Huntington  Library  has  a  magnificent  collection  of  Edward 
Weston  photographs,  and  I  think  they're  taking  care  of  it.   But 
they  are  isolated. 

Teiser:    They  have  a  very  good  group  of  yours,  too. 

Adams:     Yes,  I've  heard  that.   I  don't  know.   But  in  Edward  Weston 's  [case], 
some  donor  gave  five  hundred  prints  I  think  valued  at  twelve  dollars 
apiece.   Paid  Edward  that,  and  Edward  made  six  thousand  dollars. 
These  photographs  are  now  worth  a  fortune — forty  thousand  dollars. 
They're  scarce  as  hen's  teeth.  An  original  good  condition  Weston 
print  is  worth  at  least  eight  hundred  dollars  today. 

Well,  now,  I'm  getting  two  hundred  dollars  for  the  16  by  20s.* 
If  I  were  to  die  tomorrow,  those  things  would  immediately  go  to 
one  thousand  dollars  or  more,  like  Stieglitz.   You  couldn't  buy  a 
Stieglitz  today.   I  have  one  that  should  come  back  pretty  soon. 
It's  loaned  out  on  a  museum  tour.   I  insured  it  for  six  thousand 
dollars.   I  know  two  people  who'd  give  me  ten  thousand  dollars  for 
that  picture.   And  that  is  ridiculous,  you  see,  because  Stieglitz 
is  dead.   There's  only  two  of  these  in  existence.   So  it  has 
nothing  to  do  with  the  art  value.   So  what  do  I  do?  Do  I 
capitalize  on  these  things? 

*Five  hundred  dollars  after  July  1974.  [A. A.] 


Financial  Practicalities 

Adams:     There's  a  terrible  thing  that  happened  with  the  estate  of  David 
Smith,  the  sculptor;  the  IRS  has  come  in  to  his  studio,  with  all 
these  things,  and  has  put  a  death  tax  on  the  dealer's  value,  which 
goes  into  millions.  And  the  estate  can't  possibly  pay  it. 

And  what  happened  with  Stieglitz — he  never  took  a  cent  out  of 
the  gallery.   And  Marin  and  [Arthur]  Dove  and  O'Keeffe,  they'd 
bring  their  paintings  and  leave  them  there — a  good,  safe  depository, 
Well,  he  died,  and  in  comes  the  IRS,  and  they  say,  "Oh,  there's  an 
O'Keeffe — twelve  thousand  dollars,"  which  is  what  it  would  have 
sold  for.  And  here  were  a  hundred  Marins  at  twelve  thousand 
dollars  apiece,  and  so  on.   And  they  went  up  into  fantastic  sums. 
The  estate  said,  "We  don't  own  these.   It  was  just  that  they  were 
on  consignment."  "Well,  show  us  the  papers."  Well,  there  were  no 
papers.   He  never  gave